Keep Your Promise – Phone Back When You Say You Will



I rang a consultant’s secretary at our local hospital for the 4th time this afternoon. I phoned and left two messages last week, she didn’t get back to me. The 3rd call last Thursday she actually answered the telephone.

I was requesting some information from her and left it in her hands to get back to me with an answer. I left her my telephone number and my email address.

I had to call again for the 4th time this afternoon.

I could tell by the way the conversation went that she hadn’t done what was asked of her. No apologies, no reasons why, just that she hadn’t done it and with another empty promise she would look into it and get back to me. She actually tried to put the blame onto someone else which I felt was unfair as I had left the query with her and not a 3rd person.

By this time I was getting rather frustrated. I need to have this information so I can act accordingly. Had I voiced my annoyance that she hadn’t done the task asked of her she would have probably taken offence and the good communication we have had so far would be broken.

Will I have to ring a 5th time? I suspect I will and quite possibly she will be the one who will start to get frustrated with me – because to her it seems that I am always on the phone to her. I could possibly turn into one of those people who vent their frustration over the telephone, something that really go against anything that I believe in – but there is a limit.

Do I go over her head and speak to her supervisor or line manager? I could but I don’t really want to turn this into a complaint – yet!

Whilst I appreciate she is probably very busy, she had taken voicemails from 2 calls, and two telephone conversations all of which has taken up time, my time and her time. Had she dealt with this sooner I would not be bothering her as much as I have. I use the word “bothering her” as that is probably what she feels I am now.

I ask myself how many other people are having a similar experience and what a completely waste of time.

I feel that I am a fairly calm person, I think I need to be in my job, but there are plenty of other people who would not be quite so calm. If someone else was in my shoes they might not be quite so understand about the situation. This could have resulted in one angry caller, and one very upset secretary.

If you received a call and you promise to get back to the caller please ensure that you do, even if it is to say that you do not have what they are looking for but you are dealing with it. That’s all that is needed.

It is also important that if you expect someone to call you back that you are available to take the call, if you know that you might be tied up with other things you could ask them to leave a message.

Communication is vital; let people know what is happening at all times. Return their calls, even if it is just to say I am still dealing with your query.

Treat people with respect.


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I am a qualified Trainer and can offer courses on the following subjects:

  • Receptionists Training
  • Reception Training For The New Receptionist
  • Telephone Skills
  • Confidentiality 
  • Disability Awareness For Receptionists 
  • Leadership Training (for team leaders / supervisors)
  • Team Building 
  • Communications Skills 
  • Dealing With Difficult Situations 
  • Going to Meetings 


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Confidentiality – The Telephone Call

I arrived home yesterday evening  to find a message on the answer machine. It had been left at 2.00 pm.

It was from a consultants secretary whom I have an appointment next week.

She gave her first name, adding she was the secretary and gave the consultants name. She then went on to ask if I could give her a ring regarding my appointment with him next week she gave the time and date of my appointment she left her telephone number and asked me to call her.

This call breaks patient confidentiality.

As a Receptionist how would you have dealt with the call when you found that the patient was not in?

I know it is very difficult when you have to speak to a patient and you get an answer machine. But it is important that you do not leave any patient information for others to hear.

Does your Practice have a policy on telephone patients and leaving messages?

1.       What could the secretary have done differently when making the call?

  • When the secretary phoned she should have not mentioned anything about an appointment.  Or given any indication of the consultant’s name.


  • I might not have wanted anyone in the house knowing that I had such an appointment with the consultant. It could have been of a delicate nature.
  • What if I had been a student in a household with other residents and my information was given out on the telephone?
  • What if the patient was a young person and they did not want their parents knowing.  (see blog:  Young Patients and Confidentiality )

2.  What could the Secretary have done to keep the call confidential?

  • She could have just left her first name and asked me to call her back.  For another person listening to the call it could have sounded like a friend calling.
  • She could have tried calling me on my mobile number which is a bit more secure in as much as I would probably be the one to answer.
  • She could have text me and ask me to call.
  • She could have left the call and tried again later that afternoon
  • Or she could have sent me out a letter if there had been enough time.
  • She could have tried phoning again the next day.

As a Receptionist working in a Surgery you will often get to know your patients and therefore able to judge such calls – if you know that certain patients are happy for you to phone and leave a message perhaps you could put a note on their records to say – helping others when they have to make that phone call.

If you work in a Hospital or a similar environment you might not know the patient you are phoning (like my situation today) so please take into consideration patient confidentiality.

Most people are happy for you to phone and leave a message – but there are the odd occasions whereby people do not want their information given out in such a way.