Monday, August 31, 2020

Civil servants

An NPI, for those of you unfamiliar with medical billing, is a government-issued magic number that registers doctors and practices with health insurers.

Occasionally my billing agency has to make a change in payment settings, which requires me to call Medicare to authorize it because only the actual NPI holder can do that. Fortunately, it's only every few years I have to deal with such because it usually involves long hold times. In fact, I plan it for when I have a lot of reading or writing to do, so I can work while listening to endless repeats of "your call is very important to us, please continue to hold" mixed with generic synth-pop music.

Last week was one of those times, so after being on hold for a while...

Music: "bee-bop-shooby-do" CLICK

Fred: "Thank you for calling Medicare. This is Fred. How can I help you?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Hi, this is Ibee Grumpy, I'm calling to verify my NPI for case number 8675309."

Fred: "What is your NPI number, please?"

Dr. Grumpy: "6EQUJ5."

Fred: "Thank you, one moment please... That number isn't in our system, can you repeat it?"

Dr. Grumpy: "6EQUJ5."

Fred: "Thank you... I'm still not able to find it. What state are you calling from?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm in Ohio."

Fred: "I'm sorry, you've called the wrong number. Ohio is in the Midwest region, and you've called the number for the Southeast region."

Dr. Grumpy: "Oh, are you able to transfer me?"

Fred: "No. You'll need to call 1-800-MID-WEST for Ohio practices."

Dr. Grumpy (sighs): "Okay, thank you."

Fred: "Thank you  for calling Medicare, have a nice day."

I get another Diet Coke to brace myself for more hold time, which this time was a surprisingly short 15 minutes.

Music: "bee-bop-shooby-do" CLICK

Fred: "Thank you for calling Medicare. This is Fred. How can I help you?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Hi, this is Ibee Grumpy, I'm calling to verify my NPI for case number 8675309."

Fred: "What is your NPI number, please?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Um, didn't I just talk to you about 15 minutes ago?"

Fred: "Yes. I'm answering phones for both Midwest and Southeast regions today."

Dr. Grumpy: "Then why didn't you check my number in the Midwest system when I called earlier?"

Fred: "Because you called in on the wrong line."


Anonymous said...

That sound you hear is Dr. Grumpy beating his head on the wall . . . .

Packer said...

There is a reason why you are a doctor and Fred is answering phones in a call center .

Officer Cynical said...

Fred requires a severe beating.

animal lover said...

Did you hear the audible groan I let out when I read this post? This is so typical of government workers. So typical! We get the privilege of paying for these people and their pensions!

fiberman said...

@animal lover, don't dump on the Freds of the world. He'd be disciplined if he handled an issue for a caller who used the "wrong" line. Doing so would contaminate the call handling stats for that line (it would be counted as time wasted) and that would make the supervisors look bad. In the world of bean-counters, going "above and beyond" (or even doing the logical thing) is as likely to get you punished as it is to get you praised.

Anonymous said...

At least you're not a veterinarian. We're not eligible for an NPI number, but the pharmacies want us to have them and give us and our clients hell for it all the damned time. Many vets have corporate pharmacy managers' phone numbers on hand because of it. This raises a whole other level of phone tree hell.

Ms. Donna said...

Well, water just spurted out my nose.

A. Marie said...

No jury in the world would convict Dr. Grumpy if he decided to put a generous slosh of the rum of his choice into that Diet Coke.

jimbo26 said...

Ah , your phone call , unfortunately , HAS to go through the correct system .
(Lol) .

Antibubba said...

That is not just a government glitch. Every damn insurance company is nitpicking fiddly like that.

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 hrs on the phone one day with Anthem BC/BS trying to get a copy of a check. Transferred a half dozen times and ended up with the same person 3 of those times. The 3rd time he actually said 'Maybe I should try to get that taken care of for you' to which I replied 'Like that's your job? Wasn't that something you could have done 2 hrs and 4 transfers ago?' Should have kept my mouth shut because he hung up on me totally by accident. When he called me back at the call back number (as I guess they are required to do) he pretended not to be able to hear me.

Sara L. Uckelman said...

Modern-day Kafka...

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed Kafkaesque. But to the issue of pharmacists ... it is NOT a pharmacist that answers the phone, but that high school graduate who's just started the new job and has no freakin' idea of what she/he is allowed to do or not do.

Finally after literally all the hours on hold that I've spent as a pharmacist in dealing with this newbie-yahoo, I've taken the matter to the level of 'please, allow me to speak with your supervisor so that we may expedite this urgent matter'.

It's no use trying to talk to this person. They have no liberty in being able to think outside their box. First, they ask for the NPI. In the hospital we really do not deal with NPI numbers as staff pharmacists, so I use my own NPI, which they never can find anywhere. I just go to the internet, enter it, and there I am, but no one that answers these phones can find it. I gave up trying to explain that as a pharmacist, I AM ALLOWED to speak to another pharmacist, by law. Please, transfer me to the PHARMACIST.

(Usually, I'm trying to obtain the last filled list of prescription medications filled at some mail-order drug supply warehouse that passes for a pharmacy nowadays --my uncle in his 90s summed it up this way -- would you ask the UPS delivery person to tell you how to set up the Ikea that's just been delivered?)

OldRPh said...

Three things come to mind after reading this article and the comments.

1. Dr G, that's not your NPI number.

2. Vets, I know you don't have an NPI number, but why be so secretive when calling's in a prescription from 3 states over. I don't know you, so just give me your DEA number so I can find you in my system. You called me, remember?

3. Fun times dealing with Medicare.
I've got an idea - Lets put big government in charge of all medical care!

Alicia said...

There is always a reason for the insanity and more than likely they are monitoring which calls come in and are handled from each line and Fred was just doing his job. The sad thing is that doing you job in this day and age doesn't mean doing the best thing for your customer/client/patient, it means doing the best thing for profit or superiors with big egos that have to have things their way. Glad I found your blog, this was hilarious!

Shash said...

What fiberman said. Customer service is a terrible industry that suffers from too many MBAs in charge. They only count stats and don't count helping the person who called them in. They will prize the occasional "attaboy" from a customer and claim that this counts too. But it really doesn't. If customer service reps were actually allowed to help customers rather than have the shortest call times of the day, the attitudes of folks everywhere would improve.

IMO, of course.

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