How Vital is Communication?

     I was on “the other side of the desk” yesterday –                                                                         I had a hospital appointment.

My 3.15 appointment had been made for several months. I arrived at 3.00 and booked in
with the Receptionist.

There were several other people in the waiting room.

About five minutes after I had booked in I heard the receptionist speaking to someone on
the phone and she gave my name and Date of Birth – I suspected that she was requesting my notes.

I sat for an hour – people were called in for another clinic but I was not aware that anyone
had been called into see the consultant that I was waiting to see.

I watched the Receptionist – as you do – especially as she was working the “field” that I am very familiar with. She did not seem at all busy. In fact she kept going on a walk about chatting to other staff members. I remember thinking to myself that she did not seem very busy at all.

Just after the hour she came back into the waiting area and said they there would be some wait to see the Doctor as they had a Doctor that had gone sick – she laughed and said that Doctors do go sick. She said nothing else and sat down again.

I went up and asked how many people were in front of me – by this time it was just gone 4.00. She asked me to go along and speak to one of the nurses – which I did.

The nurse looked through the patient notes and said that there were at least 7 people in
front of me – then she realised that she didn’t have any notes for me. She went into the office and checked and said she was waiting on my notes coming down.

By this time I was getting pretty fed up. I knew if I had not gone in and questioned it I
would have been waiting until the end of the clinic before they had identified my notes were not there.

I went back out to the Receptionist and asked why my notes were not there. She got very defensive and started getting aggressive. I couldn’t believe it. She went on about there
being a shortage of staff and she was just “put” in this department for the day. I couldn’t believe her attitude. She was very much on the defence.

I decided not to wait on my notes coming down – I had another appointment at 6.00 that evening and knew if I waited I probably would not have made it – so I asked the Receptionist if I could make another appointment – in which she replied “you will have to wait months – and I can’t do that you will have to call the secretary to organise that”. She could not have been any more unhelpful.

I left the clinic – unhappy at the way I had been spoken to, unhappy at the waste of time
and of course even more the cost of the horrendous car parking fees and of course not seeing the Doctor that I had waited months to see.

I fully appreciate that these things do happen. Staff as well as Doctors do go sick and clinics do run late but it is how it is handled that is the most important thing – and I don’t
feel yesterday’s events were handled very well at all.

So, as a Receptionist or a Manager how do you think this could have been avoided? What
would you have done differently in this situation?

As a manager this is how I would have tried to solve a difficult situation:


When it was know that the Doctor was unable to attend the clinic and it mean that one
Doctor would be doing the work of two and see double the amount of patient I might be worth phoning some patients and putting off their appointments until another day. You will not be able to contact everyone but some are better than none. After all it is not fair to expect a Doctor to see double the amount of patients, and expect patients to have a long wait either.  Reducing the clinic by some would be better than nothing at all.


Advise patients when they book in that the clinic is running late. ASK the patients if they
are happy to wait or if they want to re book. GIVE THEM THE CHOICE. By given them the choice they cannot come back later and have a moan about how long they have been waiting for.

Also, by informing the patient that the clinics are running late it gives them a change
to maybe get a cup of tea/coffee. Or pop out and buy a magazine. Just popping to the toilet and not be in fear of you being called. Or perhaps phone people to let them know they are going to be late. If they don’t know that the clinic is running late they cannot do any of these things.


As the Receptionist if you identify any problems i.e. missing notes and you have requested them ensure that you follow it up if they do not arrive. YOU requested the notes – you identified that they were missing so therefore you should be responsible for them being
available in your clinic.

Missing notes would result in someone waiting until the end of the Clinic before being
identified – and that is not acceptable.  In fact you should be checking your notes against your patient list BEFORE the Clinic starts and request any missing notes – not wait until the patient arrives before doing so.


Ensure that your Receptionist has had adequate training. Make sure she is trained in handling difficult situations. Remember a well-trained Receptionist is a confident

A Receptionist should look ahead – see any problems and be able to deal with appropriately – if it means speaking to her supervisor or having the ability to see the problem through.


Team meetings are a vital part to your organisation. Involve everyone in your team – not just Managers – learn from events such as the one that I have experienced – make sure
that it will not happen again.

Turn a negative situation into apositive situation.

Communication is VITAL when dealing with people. Be HONEST. Be FRIENDLY. Be HELPFUL but most of important be PROFESSIONAL.


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