Practical Reception Skills for a New Receptionist

As a new Receptionist you will be very welcomed by your team. Do not be fooled at this new position as being a “nice little job” it is far from it. You will be extremely busy at times, sometimes short-staffed and occasionally come across grumpy patients (and sometimes Doctors). A Doctors Receptionist is like Marmite you either love it or hate it. If you love it you will have a job for life – but be prepared for hard work. But you will also find it very rewarding.


The waiting room is the core of your organisation.  It will be the main part of your working environment as a Receptionist and is often the part of a surgery in which the patients spend most time: it follows that the condition of the waiting room can leave a great impression on patients, good or ill.

Before every session you could ensure that:

  • The waiting room is clean and tidy
  • Identify any hazards and report them immediately (health and safety)
  • Ensure that fire notices and leaflets are tidy and up to date.
  • Keep magazines and other reading material fairly up to date.
  • Ensure that there is nothing left lying on the floor that could possibly cause an accident.


If possible arrange the reception area in such a way that patients leaving the surgery must pass by the reception desk after a consultation. Patients are often preoccupied after seeing the doctor and, for example, forget to ask for a follow-up appointment.


As a Receptionist you main duties will be dealing with numerous patients throughout the day. Remember the patients are the core of the Practice – without patients you would not have a job. You will have patients come into the surgery in person or speak to them over the telephone. You must remain calm at all times, be able to prioritise and ensure that you follow-up every task that you are given. If you are unable to do so then you must ensure that you pass on your tasks to another person or leave a message in the Receptionists message book.

People skills are a essential for this role.


As a receptionist you may be required to organise transport for a patient. Ensure that you are aware the procedures for arranging transport and how it works from the patient’s point of view so that you can explain these transport arrangements to them.  Please ensure that you are aware of your surgeries policy on calling 999.

Please see post on Does Your Practice have a 999 Policy


Consultation by appointment rather than queuing in the waiting room is now almost universal. The purpose of an appointments system can be good and bad. A bad system means patients have to wait a long time for an appointment and become frustrated and angry. A good appointment system work to the advantage of both Doctors and Patients.

You as a Receptionist should be encouraged to feedback to the Practice Manager/Doctors in areas that you feel could improve the system. After all it is you as a Receptionist that will identify what is going well and not so well.

Encourage patients to cancel appointments when they are not needed. DNA’s (did not attend) is the biggest problem for patients waiting on appointments – if everyone cancelled their appointment if it was not needed it would free up many appointments over the week and the month. ALWAYS thank a patient when they cancel an appointment – everyone responds well to praise.

Most important remember to cancel the appointment off the computer screen – sometimes a DNA can go against the patient if it has not been taken of the computer screen – as some Practices record all the DNA’s. Some practices even write to Patients when they have had 3 failed DNA’s – and this has lead to bad feelings when the patients have in fact telephoned the surgery to cancel their appointments.


As a Receptionist you will probably deal with the practice mail. Incoming mail should be sorted daily and date stamped and any enclosures securely attached – and if any missing items are identified this could be recorded and followed up with the recipient.


These are samples that are sent daily to the local hospital. Every specimen HAS to be labelled corrected – and this should include the patients name, date of birth and the time the sample was taken. Often busy Doctors do not enclose all of the required information – before the Specimen box is collected by the local courier please check that all the specimens are correctly labelled.

Usually results come through electronically but some Incoming results may still come through as a paper copy – these should be either scanned, or recorded in the patients records – your practice will have a policy on this. For all results than come through via the post they should be date stamped like a normal letter.


In Reception you will require to have a small amount of cash. Patients often pay for reports completed by the Doctor, for their passports being signed and often housing letters along with other items.

Ensure that you have change – not just notes.

All petty cash should be kept in a locked petty cash box and topped up weekly or monthly. It is essential that all money taken from the petty cash box has a record showing all expenditure and receipts.

Any money taken from a patient ensure that a recepit is offered. Record the monies in the appropriate place and also record it on the patients records.


As a Receptionist you may be one of the first into the building or one of the last to leave. It is advisable to have a check list of thing to do on such occasions.

Speak to your Supervisor/Manager and if your practice has not got such a checklist perhaps with your Manager you could organise such a list – this is particularly very helpful to all new Receptionists when they start.

Some of the things that should be on your list will include:

  • Doors and windows are closed – especially all fire doors.
  • All appropriate lights are switched off
  • Appropriate electrical equipment is switched off
  • IMPORTANT: Answer phone is switched over to out of hours service
  • Alarm is set.
  • Patient notes are securely locked away.


A common source of anxiety to a receptionist is what to do when faced with an emergency. This can be very daunting to a new Receptionist but with good training and Practice Procedures and Polices you will soon become skilled in dealing with such emergencies.

As a Receptionist you may be required to learn basic first aid. Your practice will arrange such training for you.

It may seem very daunting when you first start as a Receptionist – but no one expects you to know everything at once. Take each day as it comes – shadow a fellow Receptionist and ask questions all the time.

In my experience in hiring Receptionist it can take up to 6 months before a Receptionist is really confident – but as we all know nothing stays the same and things within the NHS and Surgeries never stay the same – there are always new procedures and changes to existing policies so at the end of the day we are learning something new all the time.


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.

Receptionist Training: Dealing with a Complaint.

People usually want to make a complaint because they are unhappy with the service they are receiving. Have you taken all steps to ensure that you have done your utmost to ensure that you have done everything in your power to avoid this situation? If so, well done, unfortunately you cannot be responsible for every situation that may or may not go according to plan.

When someone wishes to make a complaint and you feel that you are unable to deal with it don’t ignore it – direct to someone that can.

STAY CALM! Don’t make an already difficult situation even worse than it already might be. If you feel that you are unable to deal with it – ask another member of staff to step in and help.

ALWAYS take any complaint seriously.

Make sure that you are aware of your company “Complaints Policy”. Is there a person that deals with customer complaints? If so, pass the complaint over to them in person.  If they are not available at that time ensure that you take details and pass it to them on their return

Has your company got a “Complaints Form?  If not perhaps you could suggest having one.

Do not wait for the customer to complete the complaints form before you pass it on to the appropriate person. If a customer has verbally made a complaint you need to log the complaint – you should date and time the complaint and outline what the customer was complaining about – and pass this onto the appropriate person to deal with.

Quite often people will get annoyed and want to complain – if the complaint is dealt with quickly  and efficiently it can often be resolved and the complaint will often go no  further.

If the situation is dealt with in a professional manner and the customer is offered a complaints form to complete more often than not they will take the form away – calm down and decided not to complete the form .

If the complaint is over the telephone, again ask the customer is they would like you to post out a complaints form to them.

A complaints form can often be turned into a positive situation – learn from a complaint – look at how you can improve the incident and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Discuss complaints at staff meetings – don’t push them “under the  carpet”. You don’t want to have the same complaint again and again. This is a good way to review and update your procedures and policies.

ALWAYS reply to any complaint you receive either verbally, in person or in writing. If you feel that your company were in the wrong apologise to the customer. Always look into a complaint with an open mind – speak to staff members and ensure that you get both sides of the story. Often a complaint is made by someone who at the time was very angry and certain facts can often been overlooked. Support your fellow staff members – and if the complaint is justified deal with it appropriately and go through the correct procedures.