Communication between the Surgery and the Hospital.


As a Doctors Receptionist you will have a close working relationship with your local hospital(s). Working for both Doctors Surgeries and Hospitals I can say that their systems are  quite different. Not that anyone of them is right or wrong – it is just down to the type of work that they both do. But one thing that they both have in common is patients, and at the end of the day it is vital that you and their patients get the best possible treatment. So communication between your surgery and the hospital is vital for the wellbeing of your patients.

The surgery would often work closely with the outpatients department in the hospital, as well as the labs – checking up on patient results, sending in samples etc.

You at the surgery will all have come across the sample that has been sent in without the correct information on. The doctor or the receptionist has forgotten to enter the patient’s details correctly onto the specimen bottle – or perhaps the lab technician just would be unable to read the doctors handwriting although computers have come a long way in making this a lot easier to get right.

I have been “that” receptionist that receives the call from the lab saying that they cannot accept a sample as it was not labelled correctly – I  like many did not understand why the labs just could not take the details from me – after I had all the details of the patient in front of me.

The outcome of this would have resulted in the patient being called back into surgery to have another sample taken to be sent off to the labs again.

As I worked my way up to a Manager these incidents still occurred from time to time, I had receptionist complaining that they felt the hospital was being unreasonable when they offered to give over the patients details.

So, I arranged a visit to the local hospital. The first visit was to the laboratories – I brought along the supervisors from each team of Receptionists. We spent several hours with some very helpful members of the management team at the hospital and they went through the whole journey of when the sample reached the hospital via courier from us at the surgery.

It was amazing watching the process of these samples. What did surprise us was the amount of samples that they received in from each and every surgery in the local area – and some from outside the area too. This highlighted the importance of having each and every sample labelled correctly – and the awful outcome that could occur if one sample was given the wrong details.

Meeting the team at the laboratory was lovely; it was nice to put a face to the voice that for years we had only spoken to on the telephone. We both listened to each other’s points of view, and both sides admitted that there were definitely areas that they could improve on the main one better communication between the two units.

For us the biggest lesson learned was that each and every sample would be checked at the surgery before it was handed over to the courier before heading for the hospital. The Doctors were reminded regularly about the importance of completing the sample bottles correctly – and most importantly in handwriting that could easily be read by the laboratory technicians.

We discussed our visit at our next receptionists meeting. Because of the volume of receptionists that we had it was impossible for them all to visit the hospital, but it was important for them to learn from our visit. This was also something that I would discuss with every new receptionist.

A month after our visit I phoned and spoke to the member of staff that had been our guide for that afternoon and he also agreed that things had become a lot better, samples were being sent it properly  labelled, and if there were any queries it was a pleasure to phone and speak to someone who they knew. Our Supervisors also said that communication between the two units had improved a lot.

About 6 months later I organised a similar visit this time around the outpatients department. I took the supervisors along with me again, this time they were shown around the department and how the hospital dealt with a patient’s referral letter when it arrived from the surgery. Again, communication was greatly improved after this meeting.

So, much so we invited a couple of the ladies from the outpatients department to come and spend a few hours with us at the surgery, sitting with the secretaries and the receptionists seeing for themselves just how busy and hectic it was. They too found it an extremely helpful exercise.

They agreed that they never really fully appreciated how busy it was at the surgery, and again communication between the two departments was greatly improved.

Patients: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The events described in my blog are based on my experiences as a Receptionist and  Manager. For obvious reasons of privacy and confidentiality I have made certain
changes, altered identifying features and fictionalised some aspects, but it remains an honest reflection of life as a Receptionist and Manager working within the Healthcare  sector.

             Patients come in all shapes and sizes – literary.

In all my years working in the NHS I would actually say that 90% of patients were always courteous, friendly and extremely grateful. There of course were the other 10% those that would complain and were always ready for an argument. Unfortunately these people can spoil any good organisation they come across.

One thing I learnt working within the healthcare sector is that you have to learn very quickly not to be judgemental.

I believe that you should always treat people as you would want to be treated.

I quickly found the best way forward was to gain the trust of the patients. Listen to their needs; get to know them as people – after all everyone is different. Let them get to know you as a person. The trust soon builds up – but it has to work two ways and when it does it works well. The patient won’t push their boundaries and they will trust you to do the best for them – and you do.         

On a daily basis receptionists will come across people from different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. Receptionists will come across people who are often frightened, anxious, nervous, or just downright rude. That is the nature of the business that we are in.

The key to dealing with these people especially is the rude patients is to remember that there might be a reason why they are being rude – now don’t get me wrong rude is not acceptable – but in some cases these people might be in pain, be worried about what might be wrong with them or perhaps a loved one – maybe worried about the unknown or recently suffered a bereavement. You can’t always see on the outside what is going on in the inside.

But of course there are those patients who are just downright rude – and when I trained new staff the best possible advice I could give them was to try to not to take rudeness personally. Rude people are usually rude wherever they go – it’s not just the Doctors Surgery they keep their rudeness for.

The first rule I would advise a Receptionist when they were faced with a rude patient at the desk would not to answer back. Don’t get involved in a disagreement or argument. Don’t fuel an argument. But it is important to listen to what the patient is saying.

Sometimes a person just needs to let off steam – not right but it happens – and nothing more will fuel an angry person is another person arguing back. So, listen, apologise if the fault was on our part and after a while you will find that the rude/angry person starts to cool down – they have nothing to fuel their anger – and usually the Receptionist will find that the patient will actually end up apologising for their outburst or anger.

Another thing is to sit and think to yourself – this person is not directing this at me “Ann”
they are venting their anger at the “Receptionist” the person sitting in front of them and if someone else was sitting here behind the Reception desk they would be saying exactly the same to the that person. I always found this a good one to remember when someone was being rude to me at the desk.

But if this continues as sometimes it did 3 or 4 times in a morning or afternoon you can soon start to take it personally.  I always would advise a Receptionist if she ever found herself in a situation that she couldn’t handle then she should walk away from it and pass the patient over to someone else to deal with. We all have had to do that at sometime. We all came across situations they we felt was out of our control – but it was the way you dealt with it that was important.

At times we also had to face violent patients – I am pleased to say that our Surgery didn’t have many of these – but when we did it was unpleasant not only for staff but for other patients in the surgery too. In all my time there were only a couple of times we had to call the police – thankfully. But unfortunately there were Surgeries not so far from us that had that had violent patients to deal with on a daily basis.

Another thing I found in my journey from Receptionist to Manager is well-trained staff are confident staff. Often Receptionists are faced with a situation that they are unable to handle. Confident staff can usually defuse a situation before it starts getting out of hand.

I will be sharing some of my experiences and stories when dealing with patients throughout the years in future blogs.


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