Receptionists Training: Methods of Communication

Communication is the way in which we transmit information, knowledge thoughts and ideas from one person to another or to a group of people. In any Practice large or small, communication is vital for the Practice to function effectively.

The four main methods of communication are:

  1. The spoken word (direct – fact to face)
  2. The written word, e.g. letters, emails, diagrams, posters, notice boards etc.
  3. The use of telephone systems, including fax machines, answer machines, etc.
  4. Non-verbal communication (body language)

Communication – internal and external

Communication may be either internal or external. The following are examples of written communication.

Written messages

Secretaries and Receptionists are always conveying urgent and non-urgent messages from patients or other professionals. It is vital that the messages do not get mislaid and that appropriate action is taken. They should contain:

  • The date and time the message was received
  • The name, address and telephone number of the caller
  • The name of the intended recipient of the message
  • A clearly written and concise message
  • The name, or initials, of the person taking the message.


A memorandum (memo) is an internal written communication which may be used to convey short messages and information to individuals or to all the health care team. Your Surgery will, no doubt, use a memorandum form.

Notice Boards

Notice boards can be used to convey information to visitors to the Surgery. Notice boards should be positioned so that they are readily visible and accessible to all who are expected to see the notice board. Notice boards should be relevant and kept up to date. Perhaps you could nominate a member of the reception team to keep the notice board up to date. Use the notice board to inform patients of important dates i.e. Flu Clinics, Baby immunisations, Asthma Clinics etc.

Practice Leaflets/Booklet

Having a Practice booklet will let your new patients (and existing patients) know what goes on in your Surgery – opening times, healthcare clinics, and emergency contact numbers – especially how to contact the out of hours. Always make sure your Practice booklet is kept updated.

Leaflets can be issued when you have an event in the surgery that is not in your practice booklet.

Practice Protocols and Procedures

Your Practice should have written protocols to communicate to members of the team. Written protocols contain standards of quality and should be written so that all members of the team involved in the task fully understand the procedures and thus achieve objectives. Protocols are important to a new member of staff.  Protocols should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

External written communication

Letters remain the most widely used method of written communication. Secretaries should be trained to provide a high standard of letter writing and have some knowledge of medical terminology. Letters are used to communicate with health authorities, PCT’s, Health Boards, medical professionals and patients. For example a GP write referral letters to hospital consultants, hospitals send discharge letters and reports back to GP’s.

Computers now provide a networking facility linking hospitals, PCT’s and health authorities, laboratories and medical practices.

Telephone skills

Telephone callers only have tone of voice and words to go upon. Any frustrations felt at the time of answering the phone will be conveyed to the caller in the tone of voice

Understandably by 10.30 on a busy Monday morning it might be “difficult” for a stressed receptionist to make an incoming caller “feel welcome”.  Difficult, but not impossible.  How does your Surgery work in regards to answering the telephone? Is the telephoned answered at the front desk, along with booking patients in and out? Perhaps you should have a Receptionist answering the telephone away from the desk at the busy periods so they can give the caller their full attention.

Telephone enquiries

Secretaries and receptionists receive numerous telephone enquiries during the course of their working day. They may be typing lengthy reports, running a busy surgery or clinic or retrieving data from the computer; but the telephone enquiries and requests continue! Maintaining the balance between conflicting demands is part of the job, and the telephone caller should never be given the impression that you the receptionist is too flustered or annoyed at being interrupted and too busy to deal with their request.

  • Answer the telephone as promptly as possible
  • Announce the practice, and give your name (I suggest first name is sufficient)
  • Establish the caller’s identity and try to help.
  • Deal with the call as efficiently as you can – if you need time, suggest you call them back – this frees up the phone for another call, and saves asking the caller to hold on.

Golden rules when using the telephone

  • ALWAYS be polite
  • Do not eat or drink while you are speaking on the telephone (or at the reception desk)
  • Do not hold two conversations at the same time
  • Return to the caller at regular intervals if you are keeping them on hold.
  • If you are unable to help the caller yourself, call on someone who can – if necessary take their details and call them back.

Dealing with people face to face

In contrast to telephone communication where the only indicators are words and tone of voice, in a face to face encounter there is additional dimension of “non-verbal” communication. These are the signals that are given out and picked up, sometimes subconsciously, but which cause a reaction every bit as strong as to the words and tone.

The medical secretary or receptionist also needs to constantly bear in mind the fact that patients are likely not to not feel well, be anxious about what is going to be done to them, what the doctor may say and concerned about the effect of their illness on the family. These feeling make patients stressed and therefore more sensitive to off-hand treatment. From the moment they are dealt with they need to feel that they are the only and only concern of the receptionist.



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