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by Abigail Van Buren

Access to Medical Information Is Governed by Complex Rules

DEAR ABBY: Over the past few years I have noticed a trend in the recorded phone messages of businesses I deal with over the course of a day. It is the use of the phrase, "We'll get back to you at our earliest convenience."

Abby, is it just me, or does that phrase imply that it's about their convenience and not their customers'? There was a time when the sentiment was, "We'll help you as soon as possible." Am I being too literal here? -- BOB IN COSTA MESA, CALIF.

DEAR BOB: Many businesses rely on automated phone answering systems as a cost-saver because it means they don't have to hire someone to do it. It also allows the business owners to budget their time as they wish -- regardless of the "needs" of the caller.

The fact that this offends you enough that you have written to me indicates that you are old enough to remember when customer service came first. Younger people may not be as sensitive to it as you are. But I agree with you that given a choice I, too, would prefer to deal with a human being.

There ain't nothin' like that personal touch. (Beep!)