National Call Center: A Port in the Storm
ADA's Call Center Helps People with Diabetes, 24/7
"I was just diagnosed with diabetes," says the voice on the other end of the phone. "And I don't know what to do."
Timothy Outlaw gets calls like this on a regular basis. It's part of his job at the American Diabetes Association's National Call Center (NCC), a 24-hour, seven-days-a week information clearinghouse. This extraordinary—and free—resource offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, at 1-800-DIABETES, or (800) 342-2383. (After hours, callers can leave a recording to request diabetes education materials.) In 2007 alone, the NCC fielded 285,000 calls and 30,000 e-mails.
The Call Center didn't used to be such a giant. Originally set up to take calls only from ADA members, the Center started taking patient information inquiries in 1992 under the program D.I.A.L. (Diabetes Information and Action Line). With the creation of the 1-800-DIABETES number, the Call Center grew from a few hundred local calls a day to over a thousand nationally.
Outlaw is one of 27 information specialists who work at the Center. He recently recalled some typical inquiries: One person's grandmother lost her legs because of diabetes; another had a grandmother who went blind. Both were fearful about their own diagnoses. Other callers, unfamiliar with carb counting, say they're afraid to eat—they don't know what food is okay. "Someone who's newly diagnosed with diabetes will call, and their physician hasn't really told them what to do," Outlaw says. He fills in some of the educational gaps, giving basic information on the phone and then sending out materials like ADA's "What Can I Eat?" brochure. He also provides comfort at a critical juncture. "People will say, 'Thank you so much, I thought my life was over,'" he says.
What You're Asking: The Top 10 Call Center FAQs
- I have type 2 diabetes— what do I eat?
- I have a question about my insurance coverage.
- I have a question about Medicare changes.
- Tell me more about diabetes and other diseases.
- What do I do if I have pre-diabetes?
- What does this blood glucose number mean?
- What do these symptoms describe?
- What do I do about discrimination?
- Am I in danger of neuropathy or other complications?
- My child has type 1 diabetes, please tell me more.
In addition to offering essential information to the newly diagnosed—how to conduct blood glucose checks, what to eat, what to ask their doctors—NCC staff field questions about insurance, medical supplies and medications, discrimination issues, and more. A third speak Spanish in addition to English. According to Center director Lee Barona, about 60 to 70 percent of calls are from the newly diagnosed. "Hopefully, when they hang up they feel more at ease about managing their diabetes," she says.
"A big issue [I hear] is 'I can't afford my supplies,'" Outlaw says. "Based on that caller's particular need, there are pharmaceutical assistance programs. I give them information on affordable insurance, discount drug cards, money-saving tips, and patient assistance numbers from pharmaceutical companies." Sometimes Outlaw and his colleagues can refer people to other local and state resources, too.
"It's all about providing that person with information that their doctors aren't getting for them," Outlaw says. "Callers say their insulin is stretching out, they don't have insurance, they don't have a doctor—okay, we have resources."
While the diabetes information specialists go through extensive training, they are not medical professionals, and will direct callers with medical questions to consult health care providers. A recent caller checked off some of the symptoms she was having. "What you've described really sounds like neuropathy," Outlaw told her, explaining that she should see her doctor for a proper diagnosis. "We encourage people to keep that open line of communication with their physician," he says.
"There's a lot of misinformation about diabetes," he adds, which can lead to anxiety, especially in the newly diagnosed. "We're about clearing up some misconceptions."
For all your diabetes questions, the National Call Center can be reached at 1.800.DIABETES or by e-mail at AskADA@diabetes.org.
African American Women: Living Your Best Life
Twenty-five percent of African American women over the age of 55 have diabetes. Think of what that means: One in four of you are facing the many lifestyle challenges of type 2. But you don't have to do it alone. The American Diabetes Association's Choose to Live program, launched in early 2007, provides a video (on VHS or DVD), a journal, and other information and initiatives specifically designed for African American women. Call your local ADA office to find out what Choose to Live programs they offer. You can also ask for your free Choose to Live journal from the National Call Center at 1-800-DIABETES. You can use the journal to track how many miles you walk, keep a medication schedule, and learn about eating better (with great new recipes, too).
To learn more, visit www.diabetes.org/choosetolive.