Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Not warm and fuzzy at BCBS of Rhode island

Facebook friend Nancy Thomas, President of Tapestry Communications, reported from Rhode Island last week:

No one would believe it. Blue Cross has now taken away the seats in their waiting room in the lobby. You have to sign in on a pad of paper. Then you stand in the lobby and wait. When you finally get called in to talk to 1 of the 2 customer service reps, she tells you that you are now being recorded. I asked her where the tape recorder was, astounded to hear her say that, "It's here," holding her hands up.

Not just once.  Again, today:

I had to go down again to turn in some transfer forms as my daughter is now being covered by the firm where she works, and I just wanted to drop it off.  The woman said I had to confirm my information so I said it again - name, address, phone, had to repeat area code! (slow simmer...) and she said it again - "We are recording this."

Apparently the environment isn't so warm and fuzzy either:

No one can go above the ground level at Xanadu. A surreal experience.

This building is affectionately called "Xanadu" by RI media because NO ONE has seen it.  It is supposed to have a garden on the roof and it glows blue at night.

I managed to take some photos of the BC lobby and also found a website that actually shows for the first time that I'm aware of what the building looks like upstairs.  I have a colleague who has an office in the office building next door and she says that when you look in the windows there is no one there - and she watches this one woman doing her makeup and fixing her hair all day - in her windows cubicle.

It just galls me....and I'm a private paying client!

Here is the link to the architect's website.


e-Patient Dave said...

Unbelievable - this sounds like what I've heard about NRA headquarters! I can only wonder, what are they hiding?? It sure must be something!

I tweeted to @Wellpoint, asking them and linking here. :)

Nancy Thomas said...

Thanks for giving my comment some legs.....I heard the other day that courts now have a recorder to document any of the extraneous conversation that happens in the room (on the presumption that everything said can and will be use against you) - I had to think back to the BCBS visit. What must it be like to be one of the customer service reps and to be afraid to express compassion or anything of a human nature in fear that your supervisor will sit and listen to every word said every day as you sit and do your job. BCBS is a public, nonprofit organization....acting very much unlike one.

Anonymous said...

We’re very sorry to hear about your experience while visiting our building. Your comments were very concerning to us and we checked with our customer service team leader to assure that all of our visitors are being treated with compassion and respect.

Perhaps something unusual happened on the day you were in, but we have not changed the number of chairs in the waiting room. The sign in sheet was made available in response to concerns of people who were afraid to lose their place in line. Finally, reporters and others are not typically granted access to certain areas of the building as a way to assure that we maintain the privacy of the health information of our members.

One significant place where we erred was in explaining the recording to you. It is a matter of our policy to record all customer service interactions (the majority of which take place over the phone) to assure that we have the very specific concerns of the member available to us when needed. We should have done a better job of telling you why we were recording the information; for that we apologize.

In the future, feel free to call the number on the back of your card to report any concerns; I appreciate this opportunity to clarify.

Paul Levy said...

Dear Anonymous 5:01pm,

Why are you anonymous? It would be good to have the name of the person who was so thoughtful as to reply.

Nancy Thomas said...

Dear Anonymous,

I wish I knew who I was speaking to at BCBS - perhaps we could even have a conversation? I'd be happy to share what it is like on the customer side of things when one needs to engage with the organization. However, since you mentioned some specific points, let me reply to them and clarify, too.

I have used the phone number on the back of my insurance card many times. I have requested a personal appointment and was told "no one can come in". Customers cannot make a payment online. Or on the phone. Customer service reps cannot receive an email, someone said something about verification. I was told, if it was of a timely nature, then my option is to go to the lobby where 2 customer service reps see people in their little office space. So - I make my trek downtown.

Let me say that these reps have been the nicest and most courteous people. They are your best ambassadors! Working in a tough situation. I vote for giving them a raise!

Towards the end of July I went down with my 6 policy bills, some needing changes. As I walked into the glass office space I was told that I could not come in, but needed to wait in the lobby and sign in on a clipboard - that "no one can just come in now - you have to wait - out there." The two side chairs in the glass office were gone. I left and signed in as told. I waited in the lobby, at the bottom of the large staircase, watching staff coming and going. At the top of the staircase is a reception desk and standing next to the desk is a security guard.

One of the women came out, looked at the list and called my name. This office space has two women who work side by side with a small petition between the desk space, approximately 2 feet tall. Everything everyone says in this room is heard by everyone else.

You mention privacy - in this room I have heard someone in tears that they can't afford a direct pay policy anymore and what are they going to do? I have heard a widower talk about cancelling the bill he keeps getting with his deceased wife's name on it. I have heard about medical procedures and bounced checks. I have watched people count out their cash in 5's and 10's and 1's onto the table.

I started to go through the policies and write my checks for 3 health and 3 dental. Each time the rep would ask me to state my name, address, phone and birthdate. I inquired about this and was told - everything you say is recorded and we have to ask you this. I asked her where this anonymous recording was and she pointed to the little device.

I was more sad for these reps who must sit having their every important and every extraneous word and sound recorded throughout the day - what must it be like to work like that? How they must be constrained from asking people about the weather or the pretty ring on their finger, or just having common, personable small talk.

I am not a reporter. I do follow this blog, long an admirer as Paul Levy was the first hospital CEO, to my knowledge, to have a blog and note the passing scene in healthcare - the good, and the areas that needed work. To use a public platform and accept and invite critique, where others would not.

As we know going into the future in healthcare, it is a partnership between healthcare, the individual, and the nonprofit/profit insurer. While I may make my critiques, I am someone who lives in hope that moments can be captured and changes for the better can indeed happen. If I inspired just a bit of thought into doing that then that is a good thing, and would make me less uneasy about being rather public here. I didn't mean to be a secret shopper, but seriously, small changes can make big differences in public perception, and actual whole systems change.

If I can help further, well, you know how to reach me.

e-Patient Dave said...

Nancy, perhaps next time you go in YOU can take a recorder, same as they have. Maybe take pix with your phone, too.

And now we'll see if they post signs saying "NO RECORDING. EXCEPT BY US."

What is it with this company??

Anonymous said...

It is unusual for me to be on the Establishment's side here, but when I call the organization that holds my financial accounts (not banks), they tell me up front the conversation will be recorded. When I called Emory Clinic to talk about a bill they told me the conversation may be recorded. And yes, when I went to court recently there was a sign on the table where you sit advising you that the recorder is on even when court was not in session and you should 'censor what you say.'
I think this is a form of self-protection to avoid 'he said she said' type disputes or worse, lawsuits. I personally don't see anything wrong with it as long as they disclose it. It also prevents a rep from abusing you on a recorded conversation, ha!

I think Nancy's most recent comment is absolutely excellent (including the pseudo-privacy claims) and should be taken by the company as valuable fodder for improvement. And it is recorded - here!


Sara Beth said...

@Nancy Thomas, @Paul Levy Sorry about that! I didn't mean for the comment to be anonymous. My name is Sara Beth Labanara and I'm a representative from Blue Cross of Rhode Island. I can be reached at 401-459-1714 or

@NancyThomas if you'd like to email me your contact information I'd be more than happy to get you in touch with the right person at Blue Cross who can help address your concerns.