Staff that gossip about patients and break patient confidentiality

imagesWorking in a surgery or hospital you get to see and hear all sorts of situations that occur everyday. Patients come in all shapes and sizes and all have a different story to tell – but just how confident are you that their “story” is kept within the surgery/hospital walls.

Figures show that in the past 12 months (figures taken at October 2011) doctors, nurses and admin workers breached patients’ confidentiality some 802 times and that is probably a small amount of what is being breached. ***

There were at least 23 incidents where staff had openly discussed patients with colleagues, friends and family on websites such as Facebook.

There were also 91 incidents where NHS staff admitted to snooping through the medical files of their own colleagues.

I actually had the unfortunate task of speaking to, and going through the correct procedures and dismissing a member of staff due to her looking at a neighbours records, (to what she admitted doing) and then commenting on them to another member of staff. Sadly it wasn’t the first time she had been seen to have done this – staff grew concerned about the amount of time she was taking to doing the scanning – it later came out that she was reading most of the letters to gain information on people she knew in the local area then discussing this with other reception staff.

This receptionist had no excuse as she had gone through several training sessions one of them being patient confidentiality where she was clearly told that situations like this would be a breach of patient confidentiality. Unfortunately she didn’t feel that she had actually done anything wrong and it involved a tribunal case – to which she didn’t win.

We produced documents that she had signed a patient confidentiality statement, and also produced proof that she had been given appropriate training in patient confidentiality. There was no way she could have said that she “didn’t know”

This wasn’t nice for me as a Manager to have to deal with, for the Receptionist that lost her job (albeit it she was in the wrong). It also caused a lot of upheaval for her fellow team members as they had been witness to her doing this and of course having to make written statements accordingly.

It caused the practice lot of expense and extra workload for the staff doctor and myself. But most of all a patient at our practice had information about him discussed within staff members – which just isn’t good enough.

It is also not just admin staff that I am talking about, I have also overheard Doctors and other healthcare professionals discussing patients in a way other than in the manner they should have been – and most of these time I don’t think for one moment that they realised that they had broken patient confidentiality.

How can you ensure that your staff are not discussing patient details at work, at home and perhaps sharing information on social networking sites?

You cant!

But what you can do is ensure that you staff are fully trained on patient confidentiality, ensure they understand what actually is patient confidentiality and that they understand the implications of what happens if they do this and update training on a regular basis.

Ensure that staff are fully aware of  What is Patient Identifiable Information?

Does your staff sign a confidentiality statement when then start working for you? Do you include cleaners and porters in this? Are your cleaners and porters contracted by an outside agency? If so ensure that the agency are getting these forms signed before they start working for you.

Do you have a confidentiality clause in your visitor’s book?  Local trades people might often have access to your surgery to carry out work – they too could be privileged to patient information (notes on desk, computer screen left on, patients in the room) they should also be signing a confidentiality statement – and the best way for this is when then sign the visitors book at reception – have a confidentiality clause in the book for them to read before signing the book.

A lot of the time people do not realise they are breaching patient confidentiality – but if someone can identify a patient through a name, date of birth, address or whatever then the confidentiality is broken – and the patient would have ever right to complain.

Are you confident that ALL your staff are fully aware of the meaning “patient confidentiality.”

***Here is the link to the article that I speak about above


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

There is a good reason why GP Receptionist’s are so “grumpy”

I was surfing the net the other night and came across a heading, which was written in January 2012.

There is a good reason why GP Receptionist’s are so grumpy” (I am still not sure that grumpy is the right word to use)

I was interested to read on and clicked onto the link.

The article was by Dr Jenna Ward who is (was) a Senior Lecturer in organisational studies at York University and was interviewed by Kate Wighton.

Dr Jenna Ward and her colleague Dr Robert McMurray from Durham University were embedded with surgery receptionists over a three-year period. They observed 30 receptionists at work in 3 surgeries.

AT LAST – someone who actually seen and understood the enormous pressure that a GP Receptionists can be under.

She talks about emotional exhaustion (yes they certainly do) and the job being emotionally demanding – quite right.

She wrote that there is a stereotype of GP Receptionists as dragons behind a desk – unsmiling individuals with a curt manner and an apparent determination to be anything but helpful. But in fact, their detached manner is not intended to intimidate or belittle patients, it’s actually a form of protection, to help them avoid emotional burn-out.

Although I have to say the surgeries that I have worked in as a Receptionists and as a Manager I really felt that our Receptionists were far from dragons, but I feel that having good training helped us in dealing with the situations that Dr Ward spoke about.

At any one time she witnessed a receptionist dealing with 6 people. The first, an elderly woman tearfully registering the death of her husband. Next, a smiling mum, there in surgery for her baby’s check up. Meanwhile the telephone is constantly ringing with people who are unwell.

She writes about the difficulties the Receptionists faces trying to keep neutral in all of these cases and of course another challenge they face is being caught between the patients and the doctors.

She talks about patients shouting, and violence and calls of help from a disturbed patient.

She goes on to say that there is little appreciation of the emotional strain placed on GP Receptionists and the fact that they receive little training in handling a lot of these situations.

All Receptionists are at risk in the fact that any mistake could result in serious health implications for the patient.

There is a misconception that Receptionists do nothing more than answer the telephone and type data into the computer.

There research found that the role of a GP Receptionist requires a high degree of emotional awareness and maturity.

They also found in their research that Receptionists REALLY do care.

Managers: if there is one thing that you can do to support your staff is giving them the appropriate training in dealing with these situations. Make them feel appreciated.

Here is a link to the article


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Managers Training: The Other Side of the Desk

When managing staff it is always good to give them feedback. Yearly appraisals are a good opportunity for this but why leave it once a year?

Here is a little exercise I used to carry out on my Reception staff.

Sit in your Reception area at the busiest time of day. Observe what is happening in your Reception area – see how the receptionist deal with patients how they cope with the busiest time of day and how they copes with the pressure that the busy time can bring.

Put yourself in the place of a patient – see it from their eyes and ask yourself how do they see our Surgery?

Have a note-book with you and take notes – but the most important part of the exercise is not only to pick up on any negative issues but also highlight the positive issues too.

What should you be looking for:

  1.  Is patient confidentiality being broken? Can people in the waiting room hear conversations from the Reception Desk? Patient confidentiality it vital in any Practice – and more so at the front desk.
    People in the waiting room can often hear conversations at the front desk. Make
    sure you staff use as little personal information as possible. Make sure that
    all your staff has the appropriate training on Patient Confidentiality. (see
    blog on A Quick Confidentiality Checklist.
  2.  How does the Receptionist interact with the patients? Do they have good eye contact? Are they polite and always helpful? It is easy to be short with patients when you have a queue of people at the front desk. Training in dealing with such times is vital – train your staff in dealing with such times –
    how to move patients on quickly without being rude or appearing that they are
    not caring. A smile and a thank you go a long way.
  3. How does the Receptionist answer the phone? Is it answered quickly enough? Does the Receptionist deal with the call efficiently? Always make sure that your staff answers the phone with good morning/good afternoon – the name of the surgery and their own name. Staff than give their name takes ownership of the call more than those that do not give their name. Again, if they are in ear shot of the waiting room it is important that they remember Patient Confidentiality.
  4. What are the other staff doing whilst the busy time is happening – are they helping out?  Often in Surgeries you have Receptionists at the front desk and others doing other things such as admin, typing, prescriptions – have you got a contingency plan for such busy times – if someone is busy on the front desk or on the phone do you have someone who can come and help out for short periods of time.
  5. Can you hear conversations between Receptionists behind the desk? When the quieter times come Receptionists often will have a little chat – but they should be made aware to be careful on what they are chatting about – I had an incident where 3 Receptionists were discussing a TV programme that was on the night before. They were discussing the programme about Breast Cancer and about a lady having terminal Cancer – they talked in-depth about the programme – talking about people who had lost relative/friends to the horrible illness. What there were not aware of was a patient was sitting listening to them in the waiting room that had just recently been diagnosed with Breast Cancer – she found the conversation very upsetting. Whilst I was doing
    this exercise I also heard Receptionists discussing an issue that could have
    upset a patient in the waiting room.
  6. Is the Reception area being kept clean and tidy? It is important to
    keep your reception area clean and tidy. Not just for a good impression but for
    Health and Safety reasons too – magazines, children’s toys left lying around on
    the floor is dangerous – someone could easily slip and fall.
  7. Are the patients kept waiting for long periods of time (often a problem in surgeries) This unfortunately happens in every surgery. Observe how your patients feel about it – and how your Receptionists deal with the patients if they come back to the desk to complain/enquire about their appointment running late. Do you have a policy on Doctors/Nurses running late?Do you have a surgery policy about Doctors/Nurses running late?

After you have done your observation bring them to your next staff meeting.

I always find the best way to approach this is to tell your staff that it was not an exercise to “catch them out” but an exercise to find if and where improvements can be made.

Always start with the positive notes you have:

  •  How well you thought the receptionist dealt with a certain patient/incident.
  • How good their telephone manner is.
  • How lovely and tidy the reception areas looks.
  • How pleased you were to see others helping each other at the
    busiest time.
  • How good they are with dealing with confidentiality.


If there are any (and I am sure there will be) go onto the negative things that you found – discuss them and ask your team to give their opinion. Ask if there is a better way it can be dealt with. Include them in any decision-making. Include them in your findings.

Staff do not like change so I always used to say – we can change it, try it and if it does not work we can look at it again.  This always used to work.

Make minutes of the meeting – ensure that you record any changes that are going to be made and ensure that everyone has a copy – including those that were unable to attend the meeting.

Turn those negative into positives.


© 2011-2018 Reception Training all rights reserved