Receptionists Be Aware – You Could Be Heard!

I read an article in the press recently about a woman stating that she had been humiliated by staff at her Doctor’s surgery after they allegedly left a message on her answerphone mocking her looks.

She said that someone from the practice called her and left a message on her phone and said that she could hear a group of woman in the background laughing at her.

Now I do not know the full story –so therefore can not judge – but how awful for her if this had happened.  I  had a similar “complaint” against one of the surgeries that I managed some year ago. Let me share what happened.

I took a telephone call from a woman claiming that when she had phoned the surgery earlier that morning requesting a visit from the Doctor for her sick husband  she said the receptionist had laughed down the phone at her – the receptionist had asked if he could get to the surgery instead of having a home visit. The woman said that her husband was too poorly to come to the surgery and asked if the doctor could call – she said that the receptionist laughed again, and she could hear laughter in the background which she felt was obviously directed at her.

Although I took this complaint seriously I could not believe that any one of my team of receptionists would have done this. I promised the woman that I would investigate the complaint and get back to her.

But there is that rare occasion where you are let down by a member of your team, and if this was the case then the Receptionist or Receptionists  would have been dealt with appropriately.

I went down to reception – I check the visit book to see who had taken the call and entered the visit. I was gobsmacked – the receptionist that took the call was not only one of our most senior receptionist she was one of the most professional  receptionists that the surgery had. I couldn’t believe that she could have done this But I had to investigate this complaint and hear the Receptionists version.

I called her up to my office. I discussed the conversation that I had with the woman – this Receptionist was obviously upset –  and denied that this had happened. We went over the call and the Receptionist filled me in on how the call had gone. It happened that the woman was pretty rude to the Receptionist when she asked if the patient was able to get to surgery (something we did when patients called for a visit – as sometimes we could turn a visit into an appointment freeing the Doctors to visit those that could not get to the surgery). The Receptionist said she handled the call in a professional manner and did not retaliate to the woman.

The Receptionists said that once the woman had said her husband was in not fit state to come the surgery she took the visit as she would normally do. She again denied that she had laughed. She was quite upset by this allegation.

I went down to discuss the incident with the rest of the team – as I walked into reception I was greeted with 3 girls standing laughing at a joke that someone had just told. But while they were doing that there was someone directly in front of them on the telephone. Could this have happened earlier on – perhaps the woman had heard background laughter and assumed it was directed at her.

I spoke to the girls, they all agreed with the Receptionist that she had taken the call in a professional manner as she always did – but they did confess that “perhaps” they had been ‘chatting’ at the time. They agreed that morning surgery had just finished and it had been a bit quiet in reception.

I telephoned the woman back – I had to be very careful in how I handled the call as I did not want the woman to think that I was calling her a liar. I asked if maybe she had misunderstood and perhaps had heard some background laughter – something that was not directed at her – she disagreed  – but I did hold my own and said that the receptionist that had taken the call would never had done that – I felt that I had to stand by the Receptionist as I was sure that there had been a misunderstanding and she had heard background laughter.

I assured the woman that I would be speaking to the whole team and raising the issue and I promised her that we would look at our system and every effort would be put in place to ensure that this would not happen again.

I followed up the telephone conversation in a letter again apologising for any upset she might have experienced. I enclosed a complaints form if she felt she needed to take the matter further – I am pleased to say she did not.  I logged the incident in the normal in case this incident might be raised at another time.

This is when I decided to sit on the other side of the desk to see what could be heard from the Reception area and especially for patients that might be on the other end of the telephone.

Please read my blog to see how this exercise was beneficial to me and my team

The Other Side of the Desk

What was learned from this experience is that Reception needs to be kept quiet at all times, laughter can be misunderstood and certain conversation that could be heard in the waiting room by patients could cause upset.

An example of this was a group of Receptionists one morning was discussing a programme on the telly the evening before – it was about a woman who had breast cancer, the girls went into the programme in great details all giving their opinion – and unknown to them there was a patient sitting in the waiting room that has just been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The patient was obviously upset with what she over heard.

So while you want everyone to enjoy their day, and have a laugh there is a time and place and the main Reception area should be kept professional at all times.

At all times you as the Receptionist has a duty to provide the best possible service to your patients and the dignity that they deserve.

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