Here, people talk about:
the role of the receptionist
positive experiences of receptionists
confidentiality and privacy
young people’s messages to receptionists
The role of the receptionist
Receptionists are an important link with the practice (surgery or health centre) and are the first people to contact for general enquiries. They can give basic information on services, and direct patients to the right person depending on the health problem or query. Receptionists may:
book appointments for patients in person or over the phone
enter patients’ details onto computer systems
direct patients where to go within the surgery
answer queries from patients and other staff
deal with prescription enquiries and print repeat prescriptions
manage patient records
Positive experiences of receptionists
Auberon recalled that all the receptionists at his local surgery were friendly and knew him by name. Jake said that the receptionists at his health centre ‘have always been nice’, as had the GPs.
A receptionist is the first person a patient sees. When receptionists give a good impression, it gives a good impression of the whole surgery.
The receptionists are always polite. They can lighten up your day’ which is comforting when you don’t know how the appointment will go.
Some receptionists are very welcoming. Others come across as if they’re having a bad day. A welcoming receptionist might help an anxious patient feel less worried.
It can be frustrating working with people but receptionists and other customer service staff shouldn’t show it. It’s better to be nicer’ even if it’s a bad day.
Some of the people we talked to recalled negative experiences with some receptionists. Louis, for example, felt that some were ‘condescending’, and Simon that some were abrupt when they should have been more sensitive and approachable:
Little comments that Simon overheard about him and other young people made him feel like avoiding some receptionists. It’s off-putting when they’re rude.
Receptionists in any job should be friendly as they’re the first face a person sees. They may be busy but it’s rude to answer the phone while talking to a patient.
Peter finds the receptionists quite harsh’ and doesn’t like speaking to them. Patients might be feeling nervous so receptionists should be friendly and helpful.
Vinay understands that receptionists work under pressure and have to deal with complaining patients. But it’s important to be sympathetic and welcoming.
Receptionists are never told of a patient’s confidential consultations (appointments), but they do have access to people’s records so that they can type letters and carry out other admin duties. They’re not allowed to look at patients’ notes for any other purpose, and nor are they allowed to discuss any information about patients outside work. Sometimes receptionists might ask a patient about the reason for their visit so they can direct them to the best person, whether that’s a GP, nurse, or another member of the team. Emma felt uncomfortable when receptionists at the surgery asked her why she needed to see the GP, though found it less awkward when she was making an appointment over the phone. Ambeya felt that there was ‘no confidentiality’ when she phoned for an appointment and receptionists asked why she wanted it. Louis suggested that if a receptionist knows the patient personally, they should ask a different receptionist to deal with them to ensure confidentiality.
The receptionist asks Ambeya why she wants an appointment and then decides if she needs to see the GP or speak to the doctor over the phone.
Patients may feel stressed and rushed sometimes. It’s quicker to get the process done when the receptionist is calm and understanding.
The receptionists move along the desk if someone wants to talk privately. They’re friendly and often remember Aphra’s name.
Someone who wants to see the GP about mental health might not want to tell the receptionist or want other patients to hear their conversation.
In many GP surgeries, people can check in by putting in their details on a touchscreen. Some people we talked to checked in digitally. Paula found it convenient because the receptionists were often busy and had a long queue of people waiting to see them. She also liked that it was private.
Paula puts in her personal details and the screen shows her the appointment time and GP’s name. She’s never seen anyone she knows at the surgery.
The receptionists are usually alright’ but sometimes might seem a bit condescending. Young people might dislike being asked why they want to see the GP or may know the receptionist.
Patients can choose which language they want use to check-in. GPs and patients where Ambeya lives come from many different communities.
Isaac doesn’t like the digital check-in. The receptionists in his practice were nice enough’ but it could be hard to get their attention.
The people we talked to offered different kinds of advice based on their experiences, while recognising that being a receptionist was not an easy job. Here are some of their suggestions:
it’s important to be welcoming
Some of the receptionists at Aphra’s surgery remembered her name and ‘those little touches that actually make you feel like you’re a human being and not just another one of the masses’.
little things make a difference like being friendly and helpful
being polite and understanding is important
It’s good if receptionists can fuse friendliness with efficiency.
be patient with people who are nervous or stutter
a sympathetic approach could help patients feel a bit better (Vinay)
people don’t go to the GP because they want to: ‘A smile can mean a thousand words really. It can make someone feel so much better just by the way they look at them. So it’s just really to think how you would look on the other side of the window really, if you was going to the appointment. Just to welcome patients and make them feel comfortable.’ (Simon)