Hospitals already are chaotic places where lives hang in the balance -- machines beeping and ringing, gurneys rolling through corridors and constant chatter. Now add to that chaos a cacophony of robocalls.
And it's not just robocalls here and there. It's phone after phone throughout a hospital, paralyzing what should be the easiest form of communication in our modern age.
Robocalls are putting people's lives at risk. Keep reading and we'll tell you how hospitals are now targets for robocallers.
Hospital hit with waves of robocalls
The scene was Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. on April 30, the center received 4,500 robocalls, according to the Washington Post.
When a phone was answered, the voice spoke in Mandarin threatening deportation unless the person who answered the call gave up personal information. Hospital staff had to answer every call because they wouldn't know it was phony until they did.
Imagine, results of an MRI or a blood test are needed quickly for a critically ill patient, but lab workers can't get through to the right people because the phone is busy with a robocall.
The nation's robocall epidemic isn't just affecting hospitals; it is also hitting health-care providers such as doctors' practices, independent labs, imaging centers and more.
The people who work in the health care field rarely have the luxury to not answer a call -- unlike most Americans.
How bad are Americans at answering their mobile phones? Very. Seventy percent of us are not answering our phones if we don't recognize the number, according to a Consumer Reports survey.
"It’s a significant problem," Dr. Adam Cheriff, chief of clinical operations for Weill Cornell Medicine told Consumer Reports. "We call and call and call and can’t get hold of patients. They don’t pick up the phone."
Eventually, the doctors just stop calling.
Government takes action
The Washington Post's report on hospitals being swamped with robocalls caught the attention of one lawmaker, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
These calls to health care institutions and patients are extremely dangerous to the public health and patient privacy. The @FCC and @TheJusticeDept need to go after these criminals with the seriousness and urgency this issue deserves. https://t.co/MxOFrUtBhI
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) June 17, 2019
Chairman of the House Energy Commerce Committee, Pallone is working on the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) June 21, 2019
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month approved giving landline and mobile phone carriers the right to block robocalls from scammers and legitimate companies through their devices.
For consumers, this means that mobile phone companies can install whatever tools they need in cell phones to block these annoying and unwanted calls.
Some carriers, such as T-Mobile and Verizon, already offer consumers free partial protection against robocallers. The FCC vote also clarified the issue of whether consumers have to give permission first before robocalls can be blocked by mobile carriers. This answers the question of whether mobile phone companies are liable if they block a call that had to go through.
What you can do to fight robocalls
It's understandable that people don't want to answer their mobile phones anymore unless they recognize the number. Who wants to waste their time, be interrupted by nuisance calls or even get scammed?
Some doctors' practices have opted to open patient portals online so they can alert patients via email that an appointment is coming up or that results of their lab work are available. Not all health care providers have adopted this model, however.
So what can you do? For starters, you can enter your doctor's phone number in your contact list. But remember, not all calls from your doctor's office go through their main number. If you've recently gone to the doctor and are expecting lab results, you may have no choice but to bite the bullet and answer.
If you're not expecting an important call, here are seven things you can do to make sure you block robocalls but still connect with who you need to.
- Reject anonymous calls automatically
- Join the National Do Not Call Registry list
- Set your phone on do not disturb
- Add your doctor and health care provider to your favorites, so they can get through even when you're in do-not-disturb mode
- Use carrier tools to block unwanted calls
- Use the best apps to block robocalls
- Block individual phone numbers
Use *77 on your home phone to stop robocallers right in their tracks
It's the No. 1 complaint that people like you make every year to the Federal Communications Commission. You know the drill. Your phone rings at the worst possible moment, when you're sitting down to dinner with your family, or when you're expecting a client to call, or while you're waiting for your doctor to call with test results.