“I want an appointment NOW”

Before I started working at the Surgery I thought a Doctor
was just a Doctor. If you were ill you would go and see one of the Doctors that had the nearest available appointment. I soon learned how wrong I was.

We had 6 GP in the Practice that I first started working in.
Each and everyone one of them was different in many ways. Some patients would get
along better with one Doctor more than the others – and the same with the
Doctors – some patients for whatever reasons just used annoy the Doctors– but given
the professionals that they were never showed that side to the patients.

In my first few weeks I used to wonder why some patients
would only see one pacific Doctor and would wait up to a week for an appointment
with them – and the patients would climb the walls if their Doctor was on
holiday or fully booked – you would have thought that the patients world had
almost come to an end – they would just refuse to see anyone else.

There was one occasion when a patient phone for an
appointment to see Dr Stafford – I explained that Dr Stafford was not in surgery that day and was fully booked for several days ahead and then he was on holiday the following week. I offered the patient the next available appointment with another Doctor in the practice. The patient was   not happy. I could sense his blood pressure going up and that was over the phone. He explained that he HAD to see Dr Stafford THAT day as it was URGENT. I explained again that Dr Stafford was not in surgery that day and I would put him in with the Doctor that was running the surgery for “urgent” appointments that day – he was having none of it. He then started shouting at me down the phone – accusing me of “refusing” him an appointment adding how he had found me rude and unhelpful. (I might add I was never rude at any time to him)

I had to make sure that the patient understood that I was
not refusing him an appointment – but just not able to give him one with the
Doctor of his choice. I calmly repeated that I could give him an appointment
that morning with Dr Paul but the patient continued to shout down the phone to
me. I politely asked the patient not to shout – and explained that I was trying
to help him – he was having none of it – and his parting words were “so that’s
it then – you have refused me an appointment – so it’s on your shoulders if I
die then” and slammed the phone down.

Unfortunately we did get some calls like that – but thankfully
they were very few and far between. The first couple of times that happened I
worried myself sick. But soon learnt that as long as I was clear in my words
and offered the patient an appointment to see a Doctor there was not a lot more
I could have done. It was the patient’s choice not to take the appointment
offered to him.

But what I would do was document the call – I would make a
brief record on the patient notes that he called for an appointment with Dr
Stafford, was offered another Doctor due to Dr Stafford being fully booked and
the patient refused. I always put the time the call was taken too. I learned
very quickly to always cover yourself in any such incidents. If in the event
that something had happened to the patient – and he had told someone that I had
refused him an appointment where could that have gone? So I always documented
anything that I felt could come back at a future date.

Then I slowly began to see why some patients preferred to
see some Doctors more than the others. Each Doctor had their own area of expertise.
We had one Doctor that was fantastic when it came to anyone that had a bad
back. Another was excellent in skin conditions another on sports injuries and
one that was excellent with children – he actually still did some work in the
local  pediatric hospital. A lot of GP’s actually do clinics in their areas of
expertise in local hospitals.

It then made sense to why certain patients would only want to see one Doctor – and I could see the logic behind it.

And there were also some patients that for whatever reason
did not see eye to eye with certain Doctors in the Practice and would point-blank
refuse to see them. Difficult when at times these Doctors would be the only one
with an available appointment. Just like my story above.

One piece of advice I would give new Receptionists over the
years was when someone did have a go either over the phone or at the front desk
to try to not take it personally – because the angry person was not actually
directing their anger at them personally it was directed at the “Receptionist”
and if any one of us was standing there they would have had exactly the same
complaint. I found that this helped me in the earlier days when I felt that
they were shouting at “me”.

And to remember – patients are not customers. Patients are
often in pain, worried about themselves or loved ones, frightened or at times might
have a mental problem – and all Receptionists should remember this at times
when patients show their anger – I am not saying it’s right  – but we do have to take it into