Blog | Thursday, February 9, 2017

Insurance company helps patients who don't speak English


When I was a kid, it was fun to get mail. Now, not so much. My mailbox at home is a receptacle for junk mail, various solicitations for services I will never need, and bills. Office mail is not much more fun. Each day I look through the stack and separate them into 3 categories:
• important stuff
• “garbagio”
• not sure

The latter category is the most vexing. Some stuff is cleverly designed to appear important when, in reality it is drivel and nonsense. We've all seen this stuff. Sometimes, the envelope will include a teaser label, such as ‘Time Sensitive Material’, or ‘Signature Required’. Once I have been duped to open up the envelope, I've lost the game. Then, I am forced to scan the printed page as fast as my retinas can process the image with the hope that in a few nanoseconds I can send the page sailing into the waste bin. Sometimes, however, even after reading the entire page, I simply can't determine if the document merits calling an office meeting to discuss the contents or if it should be simply burned, with the ashes scattered over Lake Erie in a solemn ceremony. One must choose wisely when facing these conundrums. If a document is shredded instead of scanned into a patient's chart, the potential consequences are simply too grisly for me to detail here on a blog that children can access.

I received a notification from a pharmaceutical company indicating that the heartburn medicine I prescribed so casually to an elderly patient was not the “preferred agent.” This was a form letter which demonstrated the same level of warmth and human emotion that one expects when you call the Internal Revenue Service for assistance. But, there was a second page in the envelope, appears below. Kindly note that I was able to technically reproduce the image here without the assistance of a 13-year-old child.

This letter, sent to the patient, advises that customer service agents at WellCare are available to discuss the issue with the patient. I am not certain if my patient intends to contact them, but my own experience is that making these phone calls is about as fun as undergoing oral surgery. But, what struck me was all of the languages contained in the letter, many of which I could not recognize. At the bottom of the letter is a Yiddish translation. Yes, Yiddish. Yes, the moribund language that many of our grandparents spoke. I can't speak it or read it, but I can recognize it. Obviously, WellCare must include so many Yiddish speakers that they need to include this language in their correspondences. My guess is that not a single Yiddish speaker is a WellCare customer.

Maybe, I am wrong and that Yiddish is roaring back. Kudos to the linguists at WellCare for providing their customers with this essential service. I may politely suggest that they include hieroglyphics on future mailings. Why should these folks be left out?

So, was this letter worth saving? Probably not, but I just couldn't part with it.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.