It’s good to talk — diabetes careline services

Telephone (other way)Sometimes it’s not even the diabetes that gets to you, it’s everything else, but you need to let off steam, or just plain get some perspective. Now there are excellent services provided by charities and other suppliers. Here we look behind the lines at how they work.

 Taking Care

Careline support comes free to anyone who chooses an Accu-Chek blood test system or insulin pump.  Technical support is available 24/7 for the pump and its handset (technical questions for the remaining range of Accu-Chek meters are handled by a different team).

As any one on a pump knows, there is a lot going on with a pump, so the people who man the phones have extensive knowledge of all aspects of the pump and pump therapy. All members of the team gain extensive training in order to be on the technical helplines. To begin with, there is a week of intensive training at Roche’s European offices in Switzerland. Then the candidates attend ‘pump starts’ (patients going on the pump for the first time), and also attend pump clinics where people on pumps come along and ask questions or take education sessions. Candidates wear a pump, which contains a non-harmful saline solution, but is otherwise fully functioning and infusing as any pump would.

When they initially start on the actual Careline, the new team members listen in to calls before taking calls themselves, and at that point their calls will be listened into, so that the fullest support and knowledge is available on the line to the caller. In all, the training process is rarely less than six months and it’s not unusual to go as many as 12 months. Staff who end up on the Careline therefore gain ability and confidence over time before being fully competent to take calls on their own. Should anything unusual crop up, there is the rest of the team’s knowledge to draw on.


The average length of a call for the technical team varies. Often it is just a few minutes long, but frequently can be 30 minutes; some last as long as an hour.  The average however is about 10 minutes. Summer Boffee is Customer Service Team Manager. She says, “We often get calls after people have been on the pump for just a few days. They are told very early on in the process of going onto a pump that they are welcome call the help line – that’s what we’re here for. We hope that they all feel free to use it.”

Dumb questions

Is it possible to ask a stupid question? “Some people might be a little bit embarrassed when they call up,” says Summer, “but we soon put them at ease, and likewise if they are stressed. Not understanding your pump, or having a problem with it that you feel you can’t solve on your own, can be worrying, but we will put you at your ease. There is so much information given to you when you first go on the pump, it’s to be expected that you can’t take it all on. It is perfectly normal for people to have questions and we do not believe that there is any such thing as a dumb question.  The only dumb question is the one not asked.”

As well as new pump users, there tends to be a higher demand on the service under certain circumstances. “We get higher call rates if there is anything like a product recall or new products being released into the market place,” says Summer. “Sometimes if a new product release is in the pipeline people phone up asking for more information if word gets out. Also, in the summertime we get more calls about travel and issues concerning pumps in other countries, or going through security.”

 Getting personal

It comes as no surprise that many people call when they have a new handset and need to put their personal settings into it. Says Summer, “That can feel like it’s a little bit complicated. Customers sometimes have a new handset if the other one has been lost, broken or the Bluetooth connection is not working. We can talk them through the steps if they call us. ”

Common questions for the technical team are things like, ‘my meter is not turning on’, ‘my meter’s Bluetooth connection is not working’, or ‘my battery cover is stuck’.

Says Summer, “We trouble shoot, and often it’s a quick solutions, one that we can handle quickly, but as part of the conversations we’re often helping to improve people’s knowledge of their equipment.”

The greatest challenge to people in the Careline team is that as pump usage goes up, they are receiving more calls. “We’re delighted that we’re helping more and more people and the team is also growing to accommodate the new demands. It’s an exciting time in the development of diabetes care, and the more calls we get, the better we get at handling them as our experience grows. There’s a lot to the pump, so there’s a lot to learn. We’re happy to help, it’s what we do!”

Call me

Karen Wrack is the Careline Manager for Diabetes UK, which runs the UK’s largest diabetes-related support lines and she offers some insights to the service here. “Calls do vary by day of the week – Monday, Tuesday and Friday are our busiest days, but we get roughly 2,500 calls per month. We are a team of 18, this includes myself, our Advocacy Manager, Information Officer, Support Officer and Careline Counsellors who work a mix of part-time and full-time positions.”

From the late 1980s the Care Department of Diabetes UK provided an informal helpline service for many years. Since 1993, it officially became the ‘Careline’. In the early days calls were being dealt with by whoever was available from different teams within the Care Department. Both the nature of the calls (callers were often emotionally distressed) as well as the increase in number and lack of confidentiality called for a more specific service, geared towards callers’ needs.

Says Karen, “The most common topic of discussion is diet, and followed with anxiety on managing blood glucose levels, monitoring, medication and equipment. However, we do talk about all sorts of topics and overall, people want to talk through how diabetes affects their (or a loved one’s) life on a daily basis – many people need some emotional support. As a result of this, most of the team join as trained counsellors or therapists, but everyone will receive in-depth training on all aspects of diabetes from diabetes-specialist healthcare professionals.”

 Affected by diabetes

It’s interesting – and probably a good thing — that in many diabetes organizations there are staff who have diabetes. It’s the case with Diabetes UK and its careline. “We do have (and have had) some staff who are affected by diabetes – they may have diabetes themselves, have a partner with diabetes or have a child with diabetes,” confirms Karen, who sasy, “This can definitely help give a different perspective to their work.”

Looking to the future, there are plans to expand the service offered by Diabetes UK’s Careline. “We already do have an email service,” says Karen, “but in the near future we’ll be offering a much faster response for this service. We also connect with lots of people through our Facebook page and Twitter, and we are looking at developing new services, such as instant chat, which may be really popular with younger people.”

For diabetics using some of the more cutting edge technology, one of the most important aspects of careline support is that it’s 24/7. John R Hughes, Managing Director of Advanced Therapeutics (UK) Ltd has introduced the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor device to the UK. He says, “Twenty-four-hour technical support is provided for both the Dana R insulin pump and Dexcom Seven plus and G4 CGM and related software. The support is provided by UK product specialists – there are no external call centres used.”

Increasing capacity

Sheena Anderson-Green is the Training and Quality Manager, Customer Support for Medtronic Diabetes.  Medtronic has the biggest base of insulin pump users in the UK. She says, “The Medtronic helpline has gone from strength to strength growing in size and ability to deal with increasing capacity.  In 2012 we received 13,000 calls to the helpline. The number of calls we receive grows every month as more and more patients start to use insulin pumps to help manage their condition.”

Medtronic’s pump-dedicated careline is available 24 hours a day and includes a pump replacement service that operates 365 days a year. In case that’s not enough, “We continually look for ways to improve the service we can deliver for people living with diabetes,” says Sheena, “We have made huge advances in replacement deliveries, with couriers delivering to the doorstep and collecting pumps, within a specified time slot.”

That’s worst-case scenario – a pump wearer with a lost or non-functioning pump has to revert to injections. Not having any means of delivering insulin would be very dangerous. However, in the main, calls are more general than emergency pump replacement. Sheena continues, “Of course our helpline operators need to have a good technical knowledge of our products in order to be able help customers on the phone. The team are trained centrally at our European headquarters including detailed technical understanding, clinical data, pump usage, patient education and important regulatory requirements.  But the most important thing for all our helpline staff is the time spent listening and talking to our customers.”

Again, it seems diabetes is in the blood at Medtronic. “Within all areas of Medtronic Diabetes we have a number of employees with diabetes,” confirms Sheena, but there is no demand that they be on pumps themselves. “We have a mix of pump users and non-pumpers and the helpline is no different.  The team has a true understanding of the customer, so diabetic employees who do not need to use one of our pumps just spend time wearing all our devices to truly get a feel for the experience of our callers like the rest of the team does. A pump is not for everyone, but for those that do wear one of ours, we’re here for them.”

Ring ring

So, there nice people are out there, happy to listen to you if you need some more information about your diet, your equipment or your diabetes. Call them!

DIABETES UK CARELINE: 0845-120-2960, M-F 9am-5pm. ACCU-CHEK CARELINE: 0800-701-000, M-F 8am-8pm; Sat 10am-4pm; Sun 10am-1pm (24/7 for pump users). DEXCOM CARELINE: 01926-833273. MEDTRONIC CARELINE: 01923-205167 (24/7, 365).

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