It looks like a library and phone bank combined: desks with computers and headsets attached to each phone, surrounded by bookshelves at arms-reach that are piled high with dog-eared books and well-worn materials. Add to this the sound of phones ringing constantly, each answered by some of the friendliest voices I’ve ever heard.
Well, we know this isn’t your credit card company (these folks aren’t following a phone script), we know it’s not a telemarketing center (they are answering calls, not making calls) and we know it’s not your cable tech support company (they are much too patient), so what is this? It’s the American Diabetes Association’s Center for Information and Community Support; the team of people on the other end of the line when you call 1-800-DIABETES.
Since its original start in 1993 in various local offices, the Center for Information and Community Support has become the place for highly-trained personnel to answer your non-medical questions and ensure quality customer service for the American Diabetes Association. When I say “highly trained” I mean exactly that: staff average about four weeks of training initially and undergo regular updates about diabetes treatment and products including recalls and FDA warnings.
Taking your calls and sharing information is an important part of what the Association does – so important that part of my orientation was to sit with a representative for a while and listen to the calls. I got to do this again when I decided to write about the Center for Information and Community Support’s work for this blog. Over the course of an hour, I heard eight separate calls, each with different questions and requests:
“My mother was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. What can she eat?”
“Are there any blood glucose meters that don’t require a control solution?”
“I’d like to buy a membership for a friend as a gift”
“I can’t figure out where my local office is. Can you help?”
“My address has changed; can you update your mailing list?”
“My doctor said I have ‘borderline’ diabetes. What does that mean, and where can I find a doctor that will help me understand more?”
“I’m trying to figure out what my meal plan should be, but don’t have a computer. Can you send me materials to help?”
Each call was answered with an empathetic and gentle tone while looking up local resources, address changes, inquiries about membership subscriptions, diabetes supplies and devices, and nutrition recommendations while also ordering information packets to be sent out. At the end of a call, one caller said, “thank you – you really calmed my nerves.”
This reassurance and guidance can be priceless, especially when you don’t know where to turn. It’s also an indication of one of the Center for Information team’s strongest points: they are incredibly dedicated to the cause. They are also real people. Some of them have diabetes, others have family members who live with diabetes. Day in and day out, they are motivated to be up on the latest diabetes news and share this information in both English and Spanish over the phone and via online chat on diabetes.org.
During a rare lull between calls, I chatted with Tim Outlaw, who has worked at the Center for four years. “What do you wish people knew about the Center for Information and Community Support?” I asked.
He sat considering this for a while, then said, “That we provide hope. It’s not always easy to see hope when you’re overwhelmed with a new diagnosis or frustrated with a routine that isn’t working – but it’s there. At the very least, we’re here to remind you of that.”
 Why do I say your non-medical questions? Because the only person truly certified to provide you with medical advice is a health care professional who knows your medical history and background.