Accessing Resources

National Family Caregivers Association

Today the Internet is the medium of choice when researching information or trying to track down products and services, but no matter how much information you find on the Internet, sooner or later you'll have to pick up a telephone to find answers to your very specific questions or to arrange for the services you need.

Whether calling government agencies, doctors' offices, or insurance companies, more likely than not somewhere along the way you are going to have a frustrating experience. We all have stories about people who have been rude, people who don't return phone calls, and people who sound like they want to help, but just don't have the answers you are looking for.

There are no magic solutions that will eliminate all the difficulties in finding information, making appointments, or getting past the menu of options that so often greet us on the telephone these days, but there are "tricks of the trade" that people who do telephone research on a regular basis and those who provide telephone support can teach us.

The following list of tips and techniques were compiled based on conversations that NFCA has had with reporters, information/referral specialists, and particularly persistent family caregivers. We hope they will help you find the information and resources you need in less time and with less frustration than you usually encounter.

The Big Three

  • Be Prepared. Don't start the process when you're rushed. Relax! Make sure you have a big pad of paper, a pen, a glass of water, and a reasonable amount of time.
  • Don't give up. You have the right to information and respectful service. Be persistent and patient. Realize that sometimes it will take 10 calls to find out what you want. No one person or organization has all the answers.
  • Try not to put people on the spot. It makes them defensive. Rather, try to enlist their support. Remember, you usually catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Before You Pick Up the Phone

  • Review written material first, if at all possible. Underline key points, or names and phone numbers of people and organizations you think you'll want to call.
  • Be clear about what information you need. Put your questions in writing. If you can't explain what you want, how can someone else tell you where to find it?
  • Have a notebook and a system for organizing information. Don't put it on little scraps of paper that can easily get lost.
  • "Psych" yourself to make the calls. Do a little role-playing first if it will help calm your jitters and put you in the right mood.
  • Are you a morning person? If so, make your calls then. There's no point in getting started when you are not at your best.

Making Your Calls

There are many ways to coax the person on the other end of the telephone line into helping you. Here are a few of them:

  • Be aware of the pitch of your voice. Try to make it lower. A voice in a high register apparently can be disturbing to many people.
  • If you're calling someone you think you'll need to call again, try to establish a relationship. Find out the person's name and some personal information. Next time you call you can reference them and you'll truly have an ally.
  • Avoid "yes" or "no" questions. They don't open people up. Read the next two questions: "Do you know where I can find accessible bus service?" With this wording, "yes" or "no" is the only answer. This following phrasing creates the possibility of dialogue: "I am looking for information on accessible transportation and I'd appreciate your suggestions." The point is always leave people room for suggesting possibilities.
  • Make the person feel like your mentor. Compliment helpfulness, even if you didn't quite get what you needed. The next time you call, people will be more likely to go out of their way to help you.
  • Be polite, but don't allow yourself to be brushed off. You have a right to information, especially from public agencies. If you've really tried to get help but are constantly meeting roadblocks, ask to speak to a supervisor.
  • Always get the name of the person to whom you are speaking. It is helpful in times when you get conflicting information. It also puts you in control.

If at First You Don't Succeed

Getting information, breaking through bureaucratic logjams can be daunting. There often doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the rules that have been established.

When one approach doesn't work, try another. Be creative. Turn an idea on its head and try looking at it from another direction. Remember, you don't have to find everything out yourself - divide and conquer is a time-honored approach. Put the word out that you are looking for information or need help navigating the social service system. Ask a friend or relative to lend you a hand - especially at a time of crisis. You'll be giving those who want to help a straightforward task they can sink their teeth into.

  • Another way to involve others in helping you get information is to trade or barter services. If you don't think you are good at ferreting out information but you know someone who is, offer to take on a task that your friend doesn't like in exchange for doing your research. That way you've created a win/win situation.
  • Can't get an issue resolved no matter how hard you try? Try to enlist the help of a professional. For a healthcare situation, think about whether you know a nurse who might be willing to help you break through barriers. Have a relative who works in the insurance industry? They just may have some good advice.

There is more than one way to get information and assistance or resolve a problem. It isn't always easy, and there are no guarantees, but if you follow at least some of the advice here, you just may increase your odds.

These tips are excerpted from "Accessing Resources: Telephone Tips & Techniques That Can Help," published by the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). If you are a family caregiver and would like a single copy, send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to NFCA.


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