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When is a robocall not a robocall?

ADA asks FCC for guidance to ensure patients receive dental reminder calls

July 02, 2019

By Jennifer Garvin

The ADA supports the Federal Communications Commission’s mission to eliminate illegal robocalls but is concerned that new guidance on call-blocking could inadvertently cause consumers to miss out on important calls from their dentists and other health care providers.

The FCC on June 6 approved a declaratory ruling to affirm that voice service providers can protect consumers from unwanted robocalls by allowing them to proactively “block unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics as long
as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking,” according to an agency news release. The ruling also said that providers may offer their customers the choice to opt-in to tools that block calls from any number that does not appear on their contact list or other so-called “white lists.”

In a June 28 letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai, ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin praised the agency for its attention to robocalls but said ADA member dentists believe calls from dental offices — including automated calls and voice messages — promote oral health by reminding patients to schedule teeth cleaning and other services.

“These calls can help lead to efficiency in the dental office, for example, by reminding patients of upcoming appointments and helping to ensure fewer ‘no-shows’ and increased access to care because of less unnecessary empty chair time and fewer underutilized dental care providers,” Drs. Cole and O’Loughlin wrote.

The ADA also said that the ruling is contrary to Congress’ longstanding intent that the FCC work to block only illegal calls and not those from legitimate businesses.

“When Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991, Congress stated that it did not intend for the law to ‘be a barrier to the normal, expected or desired communications between businesses and their customers,’ ” Drs. Cole and O’Loughlin said.  

The ADA pointed out that in May, the Senate passed a bill whose committee report directed the FCC not to “support blocking or mislabeling calls from legitimate businesses” and instructed the agency to require voice service providers to unblock improperly blocked calls in “as timely and efficient a manner as reasonable.”

In the letter, Drs. Cole and O’Loughlin said the ADA is concerned that the guidance’s provisions allowing voice service providers to offer call blocking to consumers through an opt-out process could place an unnecessary burden on consumers as these consumers “will likely not realize the effect that this guidance could have on the calls they are used to receiving from their dentist or other medical provider.”

In the ruling, the FCC noted several examples of call-blocking programs, including one program that might block calls based on large bursts of calls in a short time frame without giving a definition for “large bursts.”

“If a dental office calls 100 patients to remind them to schedule a cleaning that month, would that be considered a large burst? If a dental office has 30 patients scheduled for a particular day, and calls them to remind them about their upcoming appointment, is that considered a large burst?” asked Drs. Cole and O’Loughlin and urged the FCC to issue further guidance that clarifies this and the other definitions mentioned in the ruling.

The ADA concluded by saying it appreciated the FCC’s work on white list programs and recommended that “the primary phone number of dental offices be provided to voice service providers for inclusion in the white list.”

Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/Advocacy.