Patients and their Samples

You think that nothing will surprise you being a Doctors Receptionist. If you haven’t seen
or heard it before as sure as eggs are eggs you will do some time soon.

There are ups and downs working on the front desk – you might be the one to take “that” emergency call, hear of a patient’s death that you got to know so well – or perhaps have the tongue of an angry patient. But there are also nicer sides – the new mums coming in with pride to show you their new babies – the children popping up over the desk showing you their new shoes or telling you excitedly about their day and the elderly popping in the odd cake in for you all to have with a cuppa.

And there are the funny stories – let me share a couple with you…………….

Being on the front desk is not just making appointment and booking people in. There are various other tasks that you have to do and one of them is taking charge of “samples” that patients are asked to bring in to be tested at the surgery or sent off to the local hospital.

Samples come in all shapes and sizes from wee samples, stool (poo) samples, toe nail cuttings, and phlegm.

Most patients will discretely pass the sample over the desk to you – and some will have no fears of holding up the sample and loudly telling you what is in the container. And asking for your comments on them!!!!

The Receptionist has to take the sample pot and ensure that all the patients’ details are entered onto the container – which is vital for the hospital. We have to ensure that there is no way that the container could be mixed up with another patient. So they have to ensure the patients name and the patients DOB (date of birth) are on the container.

So – in comes Mrs Dixon – she approaches the desk – and loudly tells me that she has been asked to bring in a poo sample from Jimmy – her 4-year-old son – she progresses to tell me just how difficult it was to obtain the sample from him and they produces the poo sample in a children’s bucket (as in bucket and spade). She was most surprised when I told her that we could not accept the sample from the bucket – and it had to be taken and put straight into the supplied container – which was sterile.  She expected me to transfer the poo from the bucket into a new container – without even realising that the child’s bucket in fact was not a sterile container – which the poo needed to be in. She was most put out when I advised her to take another sterile container away and bring it back with the appropriate contents in it.

Then some months later Mrs Stafford comes into the surgery – she was asked to produce a urine sample for testing in the surgery. She handed me a plastic container with the urine in – and asked when it had been tested could I please keep hold of the container for her to collect next time she was in because it was one of her best Tupperware containers. I often wondered what else she used it for after that.

As you can imagine at the time these did not seem funny at the time, but after the event it did bring a smile to my face when I thought back.

People come in all shapes and sizes and you can never take anything for granted – especially beyond the reception desk.


All names in this post have been changed to keep the identity of the patient. 

Confidentiality: The 6 Key Principles

Confidentiality is vital when working within the healthcare sector. You are privilege to information that should only be shared with others for the benefit of the patient.

If you are a receptionist and are unsure of confidentiality issues – ASK your Practice Manager. Your Surgery could very well end up in Legal proceedings through lack of confidentiality.

Managers – ensure that your staff has a good understanding of confidentiality.

I had reason to dismiss a member of staff that continually read patient records for her own gain – in easy terms she was being nosy and wanted to see what was wrong with the patients. This is unacceptable.

The 6 Principles of Confidentiality

  1. Justify the purpose(s)
  2. Don’t use patient identifiable information unless it is absolutely necessary
  3. Use the minimum necessary patient-identifiable information
  4. Access to patient identifiable information should be on a strict need-to-know basis
  5. Everyone with access to patient identifiable information should be aware of their responsibilities
  6. Understand and comply with the law

 1.  Justify the purpose(s)

Every proposed use or transfer of patient identifiable information within or from an organisation should be clearly defined and scrutinised, with continuing uses regularly reviewed, by an appropriate guardian.

2.  Don’t use patient identifiable information unless it is absolutely necessary

Patient identifiable information items should not be included unless it is essential for the specified purpose(s) of that flow. The need for patients to be identified should be considered at each stage of satisfying the purpose(s).

3.  Use the minimum necessary patient-identifiable information

Where use of patient identifiable information is considered to be essential, the inclusion of each individual item of information should be considered and justified so that the minimum amount of identifiable information is transferred or accessible as is necessary for a given function to be carried out.

4.  Access to patient identifiable information should be on a strict need-to-know basis
Only those individuals who need access to patient identifiable information should have access to it, and they should only have access to the information items that they need to see. This may mean introducing access controls or splitting information flows where one information flow is used for several purposes.

5.  Everyone with access to patient identifiable information should be aware of their responsibilities
Action should be taken to ensure that those handling patient identifiable information – both clinical and non-clinical staff – are made fully aware of their responsibilities and obligations to respect patient confidentiality.

6.  Understand and comply with the law
Every use of patient identifiable information must be lawful. Someone in each organisation handling patient information should be responsible for ensuring that the organisation complies with legal requirements.


These principles have been subsumed into the NHS confidentiality code of practice.

© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

The Walk In Patient

I had been working at the surgery for a couple of years. I got to know many of the patients and formed quite a bond with a lot of them.

We had our regular patients that came  in on a weekly basis they would come in for all sorts of things. Perhaps to have their blood pressure checked with the Practice Nurse, or have follow-up appointments with the Doctors, or perhaps mums to be popping in to see the midwife for their anti natal appointments. Or just to drop off and pick up their prescriptions.

For whatever reason you couldn’t help getting to know them and their families. The biggest thing for me was the bond that was built up – the unspoken trust that was there between the Receptionist and the Patient. That is what I liked about the surgery work – was getting to know your patients.

Working for the out of hours was different – very rarely did you see the same patient – although it did happen sometimes.

So, one Monday afternoon around 1.00 a gentleman came into the surgery – he came to the desk and asked if he could see a Doctor straight away. I explained that the Doctors were out doing their visits – he asked if he could see a Doctor that afternoon – I checked the appointment diary – and I suspected before looking the surgery was full. I looked and I was right. I told the gentleman the surgery was full – and before I had the chance to ask him if it was urgent (as I suspected it might have been) he replied – “that’s fine – sorry to have troubled you – I will try again tomorrow” He turned to walk away.

Alarm bells rang straight away. Why might you ask – well that the difference of “knowing” your patients – let me explain.

  1.  I did not recognise this patient. OK that’s not enough to ring alarm bells. But I knew he was not a regular to the surgery – so I had to ask myself what brought him in today?
  2. If the patient had been a regular patient he would have known that we did not have a surgery at that time of day and there would be a great possibility the doctors would be doing their visits.
  3. Regular patients would have known that a Monday was near on impossible to get a “walk in” appointment, so therefore if it had have been important/urgent he would have said. Appointments were always given if it was urgent. So it was either not urgent – or he didn’t know the system.

As he turned away I seen that this man certainly did not look too good I called and asked him his name.

He gave me his name I asked him to wait and I went and got his notes. He notes very paper-thin – again alarm bells started ringing – why? Because this was a man who hardly came to the Doctors – so why was he here now?

Being a Doctors Receptionist you have to ask patients on a regular basis what their problem is – this is not to be nosey but to ensure that the patient is seen by the correct healthcare professional. It’s amazing how many people will ask to see the Doctor when in fact they can be seen by the nurse, the midwife or the Health Visitor. It is vital to keep appointments for the doctor for those that need to see the Doctor.

So I asked the patient what the problem was – and if it was urgent then I would have ensured that he was put into surgery that afternoon.

He then turned to me and said that he had been experiencing chest pains all that morning.

I had to act quickly – without distressing the patients in any way.

By luck the duty Doctor had just arrived back from his visits. I went to him and explained about the patient with chest pains. He saw him straight away.

Within minutes the doctor had called 999 – the man was having a heart attack.

Being a Doctors Receptionist is a very responsible job. The pay is not great – and the work is never-ending. But there is such a great deal of satisfaction that you can get in many areas. I will be sharing more stories about my experiences throughout my blog.

The patient mentioned in this blog was in hospital for a week, made a good recovery and was back to normal again soon after.

I am so glad that I recognised the “signs” and asked him what the problem was.

So next time the Receptionist asks you what the problem is …………………… is for your benefit – not theirs.


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Receptionists Training: The 4 P’s Of Telephoning



  • ALWAYS have a pen, message pad or notebook ready when you answer the phone. There is nothing more annoying to a caller than having to repeat something twice.
  • ALWAYS aim to answer the phone within 5 rings.
  • ALWAYS have a list of telephone numbers available. You will be asked at some point for a telephone extension number or an external telephone number.




  • ALWAYS have up to date information on your surgery/organisation available and not just your department.
  • Callers will expect you to have the answers.
  • ALWAYS have internal telephone numbers available (where ever possible) to give to the caller in the event that you cannot put them through.
  • ALWAYS have information available that the caller might require.

–           Local hospital

–          Local social services

–          Local taxi service




  • Know policies / procedures and protocols of your organisation.



  • Ensure you know who is responsible for what within your team, and who to refer the caller to.
  • Know when team members are in or out. There is nothing worse than putting a call through to an empty room – the caller will only end up coming back to you – or even worse having to call back. This leads to an unhappy caller.


Know fully about your organisation, its procedures and services, and be able to deal with customers confidently and positively.

REMEMBER: YOU are the ambassador of your organisation.

© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Story of Four People

This is a story about four people



There was an important job to be done and EVERYBODY was asked to do it.

ANYBODY could have done it, but NOBODY did it.

SOMEBODY got angry about that because it was EVERYBODY’S job.

EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it but NOBODY realised that EVERYBODY wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that EVERYBODY blamed SOMEBODY when actually NOBODY asked ANYBODY.


Good Clear Communication Starts With Each of Us!

The Primary goal of communication is to increase listening and understanding. 

The Urine Sample

The Urine Sample

At the start of my Career as a Doctors Receptionist I had some of the most memorable times. I loved working with the other receptionists and everyone else connected to the Surgery. Especially the patients – we had regulars good and bad but I love the rapour that I developed with these people over the years.

The Doctors and Nurses were lovely to work with – one Doctor was a exception to the rule, Dr Paul  – he was a fantastic Doctor, great with children. Patients just loved him. Nothing was ever too much trouble for him and he was always there to answer any questions as Receptionists that we might have – I learnt a lot from him during my time at the Surgery. And the best of all was he had a wicked sense of humour – we all had some good laughs when he was around. But he was a nightmare at timekeeping!

This time was before scanning and filing of all note were done by hand – and believe me it was the biggest part of our job – but also a very important role – these are letters/results/reports regarding patients so it was imperative that they were filed in the correct patient notes.

Summer was upon us – we were short on staff in Reception due to holidays – the filing always took the hardest hit when we were short staffed. My daughter was in her last year at school and I was lucky enough to get her some hours at the Surgery doing some filing. It helped her earn a bit of pocket money and certainly helped us in Reception. Everyone happy!!

One of the nurses was in the middle of doing a reflexology course and she would often bring in some aromatherapy oils for us to place in reception.

Being a Surgery the obvious thing to hand to put them in would be a urine sample pot – just right for holding the oils. This would be placed in the middle of the desk in our working area so we would all get the benefit.

Now… let’s picture the moment….. my daughter was busy filing – she was very shy and didn’t really chat much – after all this was her first time working in an office environment. But she was doing really well. She was a bit in awe of the Doctors and wouldn’t say boo to a goose in those days.

In Walks Dr Paul – he spots the urine pot with the aromatherapy oils in – spots my daughter filing away and turns to me and winks!!! He picks up the pot – holds it up to the light looking at it closely brings it back down again – then sticks his finger into the pot and then puts the finger into his mouth – then turned to me (my daughter at the point is just gobsmacked) and said …………………………… Yep – just as I thought – Mrs Smith has definitely got a urine infection – can you phone her and ask her to come in to see me.

You should have seen the look on her face. It was priceless!


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Receptionist Training – The Perfect Image


  • Professional
  • Efficient
  • Reliable
  • Friendly
  • Expert
  • Caring
  • Trustworthy


The Way you dress perhaps wearing a company uniform. The way you talk and the actions you take add up to being professional.


Always see a task through if you are able.  This given the customer the opinion that you are efficient. If you cannot see a task through then make sure that you pass it on to someone who will.


Always be a good timekeeper. Do not let yourself and others down. Always do the tasks asked of you. Being reliable means that your team can count on you.


SMILE – even when you are on the phone – a friendly face makes people feel at ease. Everyone likes to see a friendly face.


Be confident – understand the task that you are doing. If you are not sure ASK someone. All of these will make you an expert in what you are doing.


Remember one of the most important things is to care. People will be more approachable if they find you are caring. It does not mean you have to be a “walk over” or agree with the other person but to care i a very important value to have.


To be trustworthy is the utmost. To be trusted is something that is earned. If you are trustworthy your team members and customers will trust your judgement and value your opinions.


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved