The Fed Up Receptionist

I had a friend who is a Doctors Receptionist phone me last night – she had the day from hell at work yesterday morning. The usual covering staff that are on holiday and then someone phoned in sick – she quite understands that it happens and like us all support her fellow team members.

She is a great receptionist, hard-working and extremely good at her job.

Her role yesterday morning was answering the phones. All Surgeries have different systems, at my friend’s surgery they have 3 girls on for the first couple of hours each morning answering the telephone in the upstairs office, that leave the girl in reception to deal with the patient during the busy clinics.

Yesterday due to sickness and holidays it only left 2 of them upstairs answering the telephones. She told me it was unusually busy for a Thursday morning and what didn’t help was they were a doctor short due to illness and could not get a locum in time  to cover. Any doctor’s receptionist/manager will completely appreciate this situation. Another member of staff had to phone patients to cancel appointments or fit them in with the other doctors – appointments were very short. She said the phones did not stop ringing. They could not answer them quick enough.

My friend answered one of the many telephone calls to a very irate patient. He was fuming – complaining that he has been kept waiting – he complained that phone just ringing and ringing – he even had the cheek to ask her if she was off having a tea break. That did not go down well with her as she did not get a tea break that morning.

The patient then said that he needed an appointment for that morning – he had an insurance form that he wanted the Doctor to complete. My friend explained that they only had limited appointments and they were for emergencies only. The patient said that it was an emergency. My friend explained that the surgery policy was that insurance forms should be left at reception and be collected a few days later. She “tried” to explain to the patient that the Doctors have many forms to complete on a daily basis and not something that they would do within surgery time. The patient was not happy.

The patient started getting quite abusive, the phones were ringing and my friend was conscious that they needed to be answered. She said she tried to reason with the patient again and he continued to be rude – so she did something that she should not have done – she put the phone down on him.

When she spoke to me she told me she knew had done wrong, but she felt at the end of her tether – she admitted that she almost got her bag and gone home. She asked what I thought.

My reply to her was

As a receptionist she should never get herself into a situation like this again. Whilst I could understand why she felt so angry with the patient, and there was no excuse for his bad behaviour I could understand the patient’s frustration with the unanswered telephone.

I told her that it would be very possible that the patient might make a complaint against her. I asked her if she had spoken to her Practice Manager about the incident. She said she hadn’t. I suggested she should have spoken to her Practice Manager. I asked her if her surgery had an incident report form she could have completed. She had no idea what I meant. I explained to her the benefits of such a form – here is what the form is :

The Incident Report Form

From a Managers point of view – if I had received a complaint from the patient – I would have been horrified to hear that one of my receptionists had put the phone down. I would have probably called the receptionist in and this would have caused bad feelings – because in my experience calling in a member of staff to tell them there has been a complaint made against them never gets off to a good start, and of course you only have one side of the story to go on. Often the receptionists feel that they are not supported when a complaint is being made against them.

As a receptionist is she had of spoken to her Manager it might have highlighted some of the problems they were having answering the phones that morning. I asked my friend what the set up in the office was.

She told me that they had 3 incoming lines into the office, one for each girl to answer, of course they had one sick that morning so therefore had 3 incoming lines but only two receptionists answering the calls.

This resulted in one line ringing until it was answered.

She told me that there surgery policy was that phones had to be answered within 3 rings – the reason someone might be calling with an emergency. So, WHY were the receptionists left with one phone that was not being answered?

I suggested to my friend that she should have spoken to her Practice Manager about the incident. That they should look at their procedures  in the event of sickness or shortage of staff.

I suggested that perhaps she spoke to her Practice Manager today, to explain what had happened, and perhaps suggest that when there are only two receptionists answering the telephones that the third line is busied until the calls calmed down somewhat. Or, that they get a third member of staff into the office to help take the calls.

Perhaps notices should go up in the practice advising patients that any forms that need completing by the Doctor will take so many days to complete. This could be also included on the surgery website and any practice newsletters / brochures that go out to patients.

As a manager it is important to know what is happening in each area of your practice – when there are staff holidays and sickness other staff are taking on extra responsibilities, and often stress levels rise.

You can’t tell your staff that phones have to be answered within 3 rings yet let a 3rd phone line go unanswered. From a patients point of view they think that no one is bothering to answer the phone – this causes bad feelings and possible anger from some. This does not help when your staff are busy trying their very best. It just leads to bad feelings all round.

If a patient is phoning in with something urgent (possible heart attack or similar) if they get a ringing tone they will hold on, and on – panic sets in – how long do they hold for.

But, if the patient phones in and gets the engaged tone they know the surgery is busy – and then hopefully they would take other action and phone 999 – don’t let your surgery come under criticism that there was an emergency and the phones were not answered.

My advise to my friend is not to leave it as something similar will happen again. To speak to her Practice Manager and hopefully find a solution to the problem.


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