Chronic Illness: Playing Phone Tag with Doctors’ Offices

Because of chronic illnesses (fibromyalgia, Meniere’s disease, Raynaud’s, and IBS), I frequently contact my general practitioner, rheumatologist, ENT, and gastroenterologist.  Unfortunately, talking to someone alive the first go-round never happens.

My doctors work for large hospital systems. For patients, no direct lines to a specific doctor’s office exist. I call the main hospital phone, listen to an automated message, press a bunch of numbers, get transferred to the doctor’s nurse’s line, and leave a message.  

I completely sympathize. Medical professionals are overloaded just like teachers and can’t be constantly available therefore they use technology to filter and take messages.

Also, I’m not calling to get free medical advice over the phone. I see my gastroenterologist every six weeks and my rheumatologist and ENT every six months. I schedule these appointments weeks or months in advance because it takes weeks or months to actually get an appointment. When my health suddenly shifts and I need specialist care, I call to make an appointment and often none are available. That’s when I resort to phone tag with doctors’ nurses because my doctors have expressly stated I can call and they will help via phone.    

During the school year, it’s even harder to get in contact with doctors because I’m at work and in class before doctors’ offices open, I can’t call while I’m teaching, and my first break isn’t until 12:45 p.m. Then it normally takes an hour or two (or 24) for a return call.  (Again, I don’t expect an instantaneous return call. It’s like students expecting me to grade 100 five paragraph essays magically as soon as they get handed in. Not happening.)

And if I miss the return call, then it’s necessary to repeat the aforementioned process because 98 percent of the time my call is returned when:

  • I’m using the bathroom, and my phone is on the kitchen counter, halfway across the house;
  • I’m driving through a school zone (No I don’t have bluetooth in my car, and yes it is still legal in Louisiana to be on a handheld device while driving–but not in school zones.);
  • I’m in class, and answering phones while teaching is severely frowned upon. #TeacherProblems;  
  • It’s my off period, and I could answer my phone, but I don’t get service in my classroom so by the time I sprint to an area with service, I’ve missed the call.  
  • I’m speaking with a different doctor’s nurse, and it’s rude to say, “Can you hold on for a sec?”;
  • Little Thing, watching Youtube Kids, has my phone and hangs up purposely instead of answering;
  • I’ve accidentally left my phone in the car for two minutes;  
  • I’ve forgotten to switch my phone off silent after the workday ends or after I wake up;


  • It’s 3:58 on a Friday afternoon, any bullet from above (except number three) conspires against me, and the doctor’s office closes at four–so I’m shit out of luck until Monday and the whole vicious cycle repeats.     

I hate playing phone tag with the doctor’s office. The whole process is a colossal fiasco.  

It’s 2018 people. I challenge the world to figure out a better way for doctors’ offices to communicate with patients.  A three or four phone call interaction per individual instance is comically ineffective.

(I’ve even tried direct messaging doctors’ offices through apps like MyChart, but I’ve never gotten a written message back. The nurse calls in response to the emailed message. Go figure.)

Surely the doctors’ nurses find themselves frustrated, too. Returning patient phone calls can’t be their only professional responsibility.

How much time and money are wasted per salaried professional because of calling the same patient repeatedly over the same issue?

Maybe it’s minimal, but the notion nags me–just like the fact that they’re never available when I am.    


2 thoughts on “Chronic Illness: Playing Phone Tag with Doctors’ Offices

  1. Ugh, so very true! I hate phone tag, too. At least with calls from my GP, when I request one, it’s set for a certain day (rough time not specified, because that would be far too helpful!) so I glue my phone to me all day waiting for it, dreading the thought of missing it and starting the process of requesting a call and waiting another week for another waiting-on-tenterhooks day. Calls from anyone else, like the rheumie, well, who knows when I’d get a call back; like you, most likely when I’m in the loo or the shower or the car and I can’t answer! I feel your pain. You’re right, you would have thought this could be made easier for patients..!
    Caz x

    Liked by 1 person

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