Receptionists Training: Communication and the Signs

What is Communication?


A process of which information, meanings and feelings are shared by persons through the exchange of verbal and non-verbal messages.


NON-VERBAL – posture, gesture, facial expression, clothes, smell and touch.

VERBAL/VOCAL LANGUAGE  – Volume, tone, pitch of voice, clarify of speech, intonation, pace.

Communication is about giving and acquiring information by various means. The more effective you are at communication with others the more you acquire or learn.


People may communicate their state of mind or emotions through:

  • Posture
  • Sighs
  • Hand gestures
  • Tears
  • Eye Contact
  • Heavy or light breathing
  • Relaxed or tense
  • Silence
  • Eye movement
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice


  • Choice of clothes
  • Home / car / lifestyle
  • Make up / jewellery / hairstyle
  • Leisure interests

The above are  ways that people use to communicate – but the important thing is to understand  communication and deal with it in the appropriate way.

and remember – communication is a two way process.

Receptionist Training: Young Patients and Confidentiality


 It is important that a young patient feels confident to be able to
speak to a Health Care Professional in confidence.


Young patients also have the right to confidentiality! Often it is difficult when a young patient around the age of 15 years comes into the surgery alone. They often don’t want their parents to know that they have been to the Surgery. Often it is of a personal nature. So what happens when the Surgery need to get in touch with the young patient:

Do not phone the patient on their home phone (if possible)

This often leads to questions by parents as to why the surgery is phoning – especially if the patient has not told their parents they have been.

Do NOT leave a message on the home answer phone

Again, this will lead to questions by parents.

Use Mobile Telephones where possible.

It might be a policy of your Practice not to use mobile telephone numbers. But in the case of a young patient it is advisable to use a mobile number if you have one. This is one
safe way of being able to speak direct to the patient – in confidence.

When is a good time to phone?

Ask the Young patient when would be the best time to phone. You don’t want to call when they might be in school or perhaps at home.

If a young patient comes in alone for an appointment

If the patient is very young please check with you Doctor/Supervisor/Practice Manager that they can been seen on their own. Your Practice should have guidelines on young patients.

At the time of the appointment check if they have a mobile telephone number – this will allow you direct access to the patient if you should need to contact them.

If Tests are being carried out

Make an appointment for them to receive the results. Normally we ask
patients to telephone for results – giving a young patient results can often lead to confusion and the correct procedures not taken. An appointment can give the Doctor/Nurse a chance to make sure they understand. It is amazing how many young patient do not understand medical terminology – I have had young patients believe that a “positive” pregnancy test means that they are NOT pregnant. Positive meaning it is good that they are not pregnant.  Do not assume that they understand – always clarify that they understand – explain exactly what the results mean. If as a Receptionist you are giving out a pregnancy result to a young patient and the test is “positive” follow-up by saying:

“Your pregnancy test is positive – that means you are pregnant – would you like me to make an appointment for you to see the Doctor”?    or

“Your pregnancy test is negative – this means that you are not pregnant”

When a Young Patient wants to book an appointment.

There are several things take into consideration when a young patient comes into the surgery to book an appointment:

  •  The young patient does not want their parents knowing that they are going to see the doctor.
  • Young patients are often nervous about seeing the Doctor.
  •  It might have taken a lot of guts for them to come in to book the appointment – maybe it might be of a sensitive nature – something that has taken them time to come in about. So don’t scare them off before they have a chance to see the Doctor/Nurse.
  •  Always try to fit them in when it is convenient with them – if they don’t want their parents knowing it won’t help giving them a tea time appointment – parents might ask questions to where they have been.
  •  Offer an appointment straight from school – or perhaps in their lunch break. Ask the young patient when it would be best for them to come to the surgery.
  • If you feel that the young patient is nervous see if you can fit them in there and then (if you have a surgery going on) – often they will book an appointment and not attend – their nerves get the better of them and they do not come back.
  •  If it is a male young patient try to book them in with a male doctor and a female doctor with a female patient. This will help if the appointment is of a sensitive nature.
  •  If the young patient comes to the desk with a friend – you can always mention that the young patient is welcome to bring their friend in with them to see the Doctor. They sometimes need the support from a friend.

And most important – Young patient have the right to confidentiality – if they are old enough to come on their own then they should have the respect of confidentiality like any other patient. Sometimes Parents get to know that the young patient has been to the see the Doctor and will phone the surgery to ask what they have been in for – you do not have any right to give out any information. So be very careful. If young patients wanted their parents to know they were seeing the Doctor they would have told them.

Make sure you have the correct training in a situation where a parent calls the Surgery and asks why their child has been seen. It will happen.

A Guide to Patient Care

Patient care is vital for your Practice. You are wasting your time getting the system right if you blow it at the last-minute by rude staff, keeping someone waiting on the phone or not responding to something that has been promised.

Your Practice will be judges in the first 30 seconds of contact with the first person the patient sees. This may not be a highly paid or “senior” member of staff – but of course they ARE important because of this.

The essence of Patient Care is making every patient feel important. Do not prejudge your patients by appearance.

The first part of Patient Care is getting the basics right. These are the expected things – getting their name right, appointments being on time, giving them the service that they expect, having clean and tidy premises, smart and friendly staff etc.

If you get these right and the patient will not even notice, but if you get them wrong and they will. You will need systems and procedures for these, so they never fail.

The second part of Patient Care is the “delight”. You need to think creatively about what you can do to “delight” your patients. These are the things they do not expect. These are the things that they will tell their friends about – for example:

  1. My Surgery has A Carers Register
  2. My Surgery has a Prescription Collection System
  3. My Surgery has a Nurse Triage
  4. My Surgery will fit me in if it is an emergency
  5. I can telephone and speak the triage nurse
  6. My Surgery has a Smoke Stop Group
  7. My Surgery has a Weight Management Clinic
  8. My Surgery has a Health Visitors Clinics
  9. My Surgery has a Practice Newsletter
  10. My Surgery has a good informative noticeboard

After a while the “delights” may become expected. You will have to keep thinking of new “delights” for your patients. Discuss new “delights” at your next team meetings.

Sometimes it is a Delight to bend the rules for a patient. This needs careful management, but is unavoidable. No one likes a “Jobsworth”. Always check with your Surgery Supervisor/Manager before “bending the rules”.

Different patients want to be treated in different ways. For some it is about being dealt with quickly, others it is attention to detail, and for others it is about good friendly staff. Staff need to be trained to recognise these types of variation and adapt as necessary.

Patient Care is not just about new patients – it needs to be ongoing for existing patients too. The biggest cause of lost customers is “Perceived Indifference”. Replacing a lost patient, ie getting a new one, causes more work, ie new patient medical, registrations, sorting of notes, tagging etc. Staff need to be “warm and friendly” types rather than “cold and uncaring”.

Patient care is vital. It is important that management recruit the right people. Staff need to be friendly, and this means setting up a system to make sure that your Practice procedures are followed. Lead by example and to get moral to a level where cheerful staff are motivated to care about the patients.

Only 4% of unhappy patients complain. But the damage is done when they then tell other people negative things about the Practice. So every complaint must be taken seriously and dealt with immediately.

Complaints can be turned into a net gain if they are handled well. If a complaint is handled well share it at your next receptionist / Management meeting – talk it through with others – learn from every complaint.

Read previous blog on: Dealing with a Complaint.

Patients need to be surveyed in order to find out what they think of your Practice. This means existing patients, and if possible non-patients (visitors to the surgery – as they too are customers). You need to know what they think is important and how you are at the important things.

Be your own mystery shopper occasionally. Try phoning in to your organisation. What are the first impressions like? Try sitting in our own reception area with some “work” and take notes on:

  1. How quickly the phones are answered?
  2. How professional / Helpful the receptionist is on the phone
  3. How does the receptionist deal with people at the front desk?
  4. Can you hear any confidential information being given out by the receptionist?
  5. How do you think the patient was treated?
  6. How good do you think “your surgery” is at Customer Care?

Read previous blog on: The Other Side of the Desk

Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference.

Smoking in the workplace


I had an interesting 3 way discussion over recently – it was about smoking breaks in the workplace.

I would like to state before I start I don’t really have an opinion either way – I am not a smoker and never have been but was brought up in a house that both parents smoked – and up to 6 months ago a husband that smoked too.

The discussion I had was with a smoker and a non smoker.

The conversation stated with the non smoker saying that in her place of work (which happened to be a Doctors Surgery) the smokers gets to have regular smoke breaks during her shift  – albeit it only 5 minutes or so but they could have several in some working session.

She felt that it was unfair on those that did not smoke. Most of the Receptionists worked part-time and therefore did not qualify for a “tea break” but could have tea/coffee while they were working – and she stated that the smokers who had “smoking breaks” also had the team/coffee at their desks along with the non smokers.

I asked the non smoker if they could also take a 5 minute break away from their desk and her reply was it was not possible as there was always so much to do – but the smokers could always find the time.

The smoker of course try to defend herself – she disagreed and said that by having the smoking break gave her the buzz to be able to carry on – if she was not allowed to have that smoking break then she felt that her work would suffer.  She was adamant that smokers should be entitled to smoke breaks – and could not see a problem with it.

The discussion got quite heated – both girls feeling that they were in the right – one feeling that she should be allowed several breaks to have a cigarette – the other girl feeling that why her colleague was out having the cigarette she was having to cover and do more work.

They both asked me what I thought.

It did get me thinking – what would I do if two members of staff approached me with a similar problem?

It’s something that you would have to deal with fairly and opened minded. Not let your judgement be swayed if you are a smoker or non smoker.

This could become a big problem in your organisation – so perhaps you need to have a policy on smoking n the workplace – have it written into your staff handbook and even discuss at interviews.

Do not let a situation like this because a big problem in your workplace – have a policy in place. I certainly am going to.

Communicating Tips for the Hard of Hearing.

One in five adults in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing. This means that in an average day (8 am to 6pm) you could see 10 patients in your surgery who have difficulty in hearing what you are saying.

As the majority of GPs and surgery staff have not been trained to communicate effectively with deaf or hard of hearing patients it is not surprising that many patients with hearing loss either leave the surgery feeling confused about the advice they have been given or avoid seeing their GP altogether.

Fortunately learning how to communicate more effectively with deaf and hard of hearing people is simple and can be very rewarding to the Receptionist.

The following tips will help you feel more confident about being understood and hopefully give your patients a better service.

  • Remember to face patients when speaking to them and check that they have understood you.
  • Try to reduce background noise, especially for hearing aid users.
  • Avoid having bright lights positioned behind your or equipment blocking out the patients view as these can make lip-reading difficult.
  • Try to remember to check that the patient you are about to converse with is looking at you before you begin to speak.
  • Remember confidentiality. Try not to shout, as this will only distort your voice and lip patterns. Speak clearly, with a normal rhythm of speech. Shouting will only result in embarrassing the patients.
  • Try to remember sentences and phrases are easier to lip-read than single words.
  • Try to allow time for the patient you are talking with to absorb what you have said – and please do not rush them. Give them time to ask questions if they are unsure.
  • Try to keep your hands and anything you may be holding away from your face and do not eat while you are talking.
  • Try to avoid exaggerated or misleading facial expressions.
  • Try to use some gestures during conversations as this may help.
  • Speak in a moderate rhythm, try not to change the subject suddenly and re-phrase if your patient has not understood.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy in case you need to write anything down.
  • As patients how they prefer to communicate and mark their notes accordingly. This can be done as an alert message on the computer screen. This will alert other healthcare professionals and receptionists when booking them in.
  • Think about how patients in the waiting room know when it is their turn – either by a receptionist alerting them personally or the doctor or nurse alerting them. They might always be able to hear the tannoy.
  • Make sure that all staff, Doctors and attached staff are aware if you have a portable hearing loop in your surgery. Ensure that you are aware of how it operates – and ensure that it is checked on a regular basis.
  • Always talk to the patient and do not talk past them or to the person they might be with

Remember: They are only hard of hearing – not stupid!

Commitment to my Co-Workers




As a manager it is inevitable that you will at some stage have problems within your team.   

The roles as a Receptionist/Clerk/Secretary/Administrator in a Hospital or Surgery environment is most of the time very busy and can get pretty stressful.

Tempers will flair – and staff with have words. They usually will sort themselves out and carry on as usual. But there will be the odd argument that will fester and this can cause an upset within the team.  

At a Surgery that I worked at we certainly had our fair share – in particular with one group of about 4 ladies. We did eventually get the awful situation sorted out, but it took an awful long of man hours to do so, and of course it took even longer to build up the trust within the team that the incident had occurred in. We lost good staff that didn’t want to work in those situations. A bad atmosphere within a team affects everyone – not just those that have fallen out.

So, my Practice Manager at that time decided to include the statement below in the staff handbook – to which every member of staff had to sign. It did seem to have some impact.

What do you think?


As your co-worker with a shared goal of providing excellent service to our Clients, I commit to the following:

 I will accept responsibility for establishing and maintaining healthy Interpersonal relationship with you and every member of this staff.

I will talk to you promptly if I am having a problem with you, the only time I will discuss it with another person is when I need advice or help in deciding how to communicate with your appropriately.

 I will establish and maintain functional trust with you and every other member of this staff. My relationships with each of you will be equally respectful, regardless of job titles or levels of educational preparation.

 I will not engage in the 3 B’s (bickering, backbiting and blaming)  and will ask you not to as well.

I will accept you as you are today, forgiving past problems and ask that you do the same.

 I will be committed to finding solutions to problems rather than complaining about them or blaming someone for them and ask you to do the same with me.

 I will affirm your contribution to the quality of our service.

 I will remember that neither of us is perfect and that human errors are opportunities, not for shame or guilt but for forgiveness and growth.

What is Caldicott and how does it affect me.

 Here is a list that you can have on your staff notice board – or inside your staff handbook. A quick reminder of Caldicott and what it means.

Does your staff have a good understanding of Caldicott and what it means?



There is an important clinical Governance element to safeguarding confidentiality. The handling of information provided in confidence is an important aspect of the quality of care.


ALL staff should be aware of their responsibilities and have an obligation to respect patient confidentiality.


Serious breaches of confidentiality could lead to criminal prosecution for the organisation and in some cases the individual. IT COULD BE YOU!


The organisation will take a serious view of breaches of confidentiality and could lead to dismissal.


Patients must be informed of the Data Protection Act, Confidentiality and their rights as a patient.


Everyone working for the NHS has the legal duty to keep information about patients and clients confidential at all times both in and outside of the workplace.


A designated individual should take responsibility for ownership of a particular set of information.


Be aware of telephone conversations, which provide patient identifiable information. Ensure your call cannot be heard by patients in the waiting room. When faxing patient identifiable information, ensure the fax machines are located in a safe area and in a locked room when not in use i.e. overnight.


Transfer of patient identifiable information should be carried out in strict accordance with the Caldicott principles. Where possible patient identifiable information should not be held on portable computers, where this is unavoidable, it should be password protected or encrypted. Any patient identifiable information should be secured in a locked unit.

*see previous blog on confidentiality: The 6 Key Principles