The Importance of Giving Your Change of Address

I have written about policies and procedures and the importance of them – let me share an experience I had while working as a Manager – and the importance of ensuring that every job is carried out no matter how each and every one of them carried out responsible jobs, dealt with difficult people at times as well as at times grumpy doctors.

Some people see a Doctors Receptionist role as a “cushy little number” after all they just sit behind the desk booking people in and making appointments. If only!!!

Each and every Receptionist is constantly running around like headless chickens. Often not stopping for a cuppa and working through lunch breaks to get their jobs done. On top of being at the Reception Desk booking patients in and answering the telephone they also have individual tasks to deal with. Prescriptions to be sorted and printed ready for the Doctors to sign.  Preparing Medical Reports for the Doctors to sign, ensuring that all relevant claims forms are sent into the local Health Authority, ensuring that all clinics are set up correcting onto the computer system (and usually when they have done this a Doctor or Nurse will decided that they want holidays and it all has to be changed again) Inputting data to ensure that patients are monitored and recalled to the Surgery for checks such as Blood Pressure, Diabetics, Heart, and many more clinics – scanning and the never ending job of filing – the jobs are just endless.

One of the jobs that are allocated to a Receptionist is “change of address”. This is when a patient moves house. They will come in and advise us that they have moved. They will be asked to complete a form and this would then be given to the appropriate Receptionist to change on the computer and the patients notes.

This was seen as one of the less important jobs – and the Receptionist doing this job worked 3 days a week – so often a change of address could often be in her tray for a few days – and longer if she was on holiday.

That was until…………………………..

A patient came into the surgery to see the Doctor – she was 35 years of age a wife and mother of 2 children. She was complaining of stomach pains. The doctor examined her and felt it would be best to refer her to the local hospital for more tests.

The doctor dictated the letter while the patient was sitting in front of her.

The patient came out of the surgery and went to the front desk to book another appointment and then informed the Receptionist that she had in fact moved – the Receptionist asked her to complete the appropriate form and put the form into the Receptionists tray that dealt with the changes of addresses.

Later on that afternoon the secretary typed out the letter to the hospital that the Doctor had dictated. Can you see what happened next?????

The letter went to the hospital with the patients old address on as it had not been changed on the computer or the patients notes.

The patient came back to the Doctor about 6 weeks later saying that she was feeling worse and still had not heard from the Hospital.

The Doctor telephoned the hospital and after a while it was discovered that the hospital had written to her old address with an appointment and she failed to attend they never follow-up on failed appointments.

The doctor at this point was extremely worried and asked for the patient to been seen asap. She was and it was discovered that she had stomach cancer.

The paitent underwent surgery and treatment but sadly died some months later.

Her husband came in to see me some weeks after her death to ask what had happened and why they letter had gone to their old address.

I was mortified – I just felt so awful for this poor man – left without his wife and now had two children to care for that had lost their mum.

He said that he was not there to put blame on anyone – he just wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen to another family – he said that the hospital had indicated that she had the cancer for some time – but as he said – what might have been if she had been seen earlier. And I must admit I could fully understand what he was saying.

I assured him that I would look into our procedures and I promised him that nothing like this would ever happen again. He  left the surgery a devastated man – I went up to my office and cried – it was just awful.

So, from that day on our policy on “Change of Address” changed. Every single Receptionist as soon as she was given a change of address it was to be entered onto the computer system and the patients notes immediately.

It goes to show that this “little” job was so so important and could not be left a moment longer than necessary no matter how small you might think it is at the time.

The Receptionists at the Surgery always worked extremely hard – long hours and for nothing more than just above the minimum wage – I always said that these girls were worth their weight in gold – more than a Receptionist and should have been recognised for this.

So for any Doctors Receptionist/Manger reading this please adopt this policy and ensure that whenever you have a patient change of address its done immediate.


If you are a patient reading this and you move house PLEASE inform your Doctors Surgery immediately.

I also discovered over the years that many patients moved house and never ever let their surgery know – patients either forget or don’t think its important. So regular notices in your Surgery to remind patients to let you know if they change address or telephone numbers is also a good start to ensuring that you have their up to date information.