The Fed Up Receptionist


I had a friend who is a Doctors Receptionist phone me last night – she had the day from hell at work yesterday morning. The usual covering staff that are on holiday and then someone phoned in sick – she quite understands that it happens and like us all support her fellow team members.

She is a great receptionist, hard-working and extremely good at her job.

Her role yesterday morning was answering the phones. All Surgeries have different systems, at my friend’s surgery they have 3 girls on for the first couple of hours each morning answering the telephone in the upstairs office, that leave the girl in reception to deal with the patient during the busy clinics.

Yesterday due to sickness and holidays it only left 2 of them upstairs answering the telephones. She told me it was unusually busy for a Thursday morning and what didn’t help was they were a doctor short due to illness and could not get a locum in time  to cover. Any doctor’s receptionist/manager will completely appreciate this situation. Another member of staff had to phone patients to cancel appointments or fit them in with the other doctors – appointments were very short. She said the phones did not stop ringing. They could not answer them quick enough.

My friend answered one of the many telephone calls to a very irate patient. He was fuming – complaining that he has been kept waiting – he complained that phone just ringing and ringing – he even had the cheek to ask her if she was off having a tea break. That did not go down well with her as she did not get a tea break that morning.

The patient then said that he needed an appointment for that morning – he had an insurance form that he wanted the Doctor to complete. My friend explained that they only had limited appointments and they were for emergencies only. The patient said that it was an emergency. My friend explained that the surgery policy was that insurance forms should be left at reception and be collected a few days later. She “tried” to explain to the patient that the Doctors have many forms to complete on a daily basis and not something that they would do within surgery time. The patient was not happy.

The patient started getting quite abusive, the phones were ringing and my friend was conscious that they needed to be answered. She said she tried to reason with the patient again and he continued to be rude – so she did something that she should not have done – she put the phone down on him.

When she spoke to me she told me she knew had done wrong, but she felt at the end of her tether – she admitted that she almost got her bag and gone home. She asked what I thought.

My reply to her was

As a receptionist she should never get herself into a situation like this again. Whilst I could understand why she felt so angry with the patient, and there was no excuse for his bad behaviour I could understand the patient’s frustration with the unanswered telephone.

I told her that it would be very possible that the patient might make a complaint against her. I asked her if she had spoken to her Practice Manager about the incident. She said she hadn’t. I suggested she should have spoken to her Practice Manager. I asked her if her surgery had an incident report form she could have completed. She had no idea what I meant. I explained to her the benefits of such a form – here is what the form is :

The Incident Report Form http://wp.me/p1zPRQ-6o

From a Managers point of view – if I had received a complaint from the patient – I would have been horrified to hear that one of my receptionists had put the phone down. I would have probably called the receptionist in and this would have caused bad feelings – because in my experience calling in a member of staff to tell them there has been a complaint made against them never gets off to a good start, and of course you only have one side of the story to go on. Often the receptionists feel that they are not supported when a complaint is being made against them.

As a receptionist is she had of spoken to her Manager it might have highlighted some of the problems they were having answering the phones that morning. I asked my friend what the set up in the office was.

She told me that they had 3 incoming lines into the office, one for each girl to answer, of course they had one sick that morning so therefore had 3 incoming lines but only two receptionists answering the calls.

This resulted in one line ringing until it was answered.

She told me that there surgery policy was that phones had to be answered within 3 rings – the reason someone might be calling with an emergency. So, WHY were the receptionists left with one phone that was not being answered?

I suggested to my friend that she should have spoken to her Practice Manager about the incident. That they should look at their procedures  in the event of sickness or shortage of staff.

I suggested that perhaps she spoke to her Practice Manager today, to explain what had happened, and perhaps suggest that when there are only two receptionists answering the telephones that the third line is busied until the calls calmed down somewhat. Or, that they get a third member of staff into the office to help take the calls.

Perhaps notices should go up in the practice advising patients that any forms that need completing by the Doctor will take so many days to complete. This could be also included on the surgery website and any practice newsletters / brochures that go out to patients.

As a manager it is important to know what is happening in each area of your practice – when there are staff holidays and sickness other staff are taking on extra responsibilities, and often stress levels rise.

You can’t tell your staff that phones have to be answered within 3 rings yet let a 3rd phone line go unanswered. From a patients point of view they think that no one is bothering to answer the phone – this causes bad feelings and possible anger from some. This does not help when your staff are busy trying their very best. It just leads to bad feelings all round.

If a patient is phoning in with something urgent (possible heart attack or similar) if they get a ringing tone they will hold on, and on – panic sets in – how long do they hold for.

But, if the patient phones in and gets the engaged tone they know the surgery is busy – and then hopefully they would take other action and phone 999 – don’t let your surgery come under criticism that there was an emergency and the phones were not answered.

My advise to my friend is not to leave it as something similar will happen again. To speak to her Practice Manager and hopefully find a solution to the problem.

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How do you thank you staff at Christmas?


How do you or your Practice thank your staff? Do you tell them on a regular basis or keep it to once a year at Christmas?

In my experience you will get far more from people if they are shown thanks and appreciation and it doesn’t have to cost very much either.

Here is how I used to say “thank you” to my staff.

Daily Basis

  • When I was leaving the surgery of an evening I would always take time to go into Reception, ask if everything was ok before leaving and as I left always say “thank you for all your help today”.
  • If I needed to go to one of the other surgeries to see one of the Doctors or the Surgery Team Leader I would always make a point of showing my face in Reception – I always wanted to be approachable and let the Receptionists know that I was always there for them. Again when I left to go back to my own office I would always thank everyone as I left.
  • At the end of any Team Meetings I would always thank everyone for coming .

One off Basis

  • When someone did something that stood out and was beyond their job description I would speak to the Practice Manager and she was in agreement we would get the Staff Partner to say “thank you” in the form of a letter. This letter could then be put on their CV and used in their next appraisals (when again it could be brought up).  This was not something that I did very often – so when a member of staff did receive a letter it was obvious that they had been praised for their good work. If the incident was appropriate and with the permission of the Receptionist receiving the letter I would use the incident in the next staff training.
  • If a Receptionist was having a baby or getting married I would organise a baby shower and the Receptionists would get together over lunchtime and have a good laugh. This was great for team work as they would organise the lunch, the presents and work together on making sure it was a great shower.
  • If an older Receptionist became a grandmother I would always send them a congratulations card.
  • If a member of staff was off on long-term sick I would always send them a get well card and tell them how much they were being missed.

Yearly Basis

  • My Practice Manage would send each surgery a Christmas card – I would send one to each individual member of staff thanking them for all their hard work throughout the year. To me this was very important to let each member of staff know how much I appreciated their hard work that year.
  • I would also get a personal present for each of the Surgery Team Leaders at Christmas – just a small token but again to thank them for all their efforts over the year, and let’s face it I could not have done my job as well as I did without their support and hard work.
  • The Practice would give the staff a Christmas Party – usually in the form of a Dinner Dance – this really can keep moral going – and everyone was always on a high for a few days after – staff very much appreciated the Practice doing this for them.
  • The Practice would also give the staff gift vouchers every Christmas – again this was extremely kind of the Partners to do this and again the staff always really appreciated this.

So, it does not have to cost a fortune to say “thank you” but it can be worth its weight in gold.

How do you thank you staff?

 

Managers Training: The Other Side of the Desk


When managing staff it is always good to give them feedback. Yearly appraisals are a good opportunity for this but why leave it once a year?

Here is a little exercise I used to carry out on my Reception staff.

Sit in your Reception area at the busiest time of day. Observe what is happening in your Reception area – see how the receptionist deal with patients how they cope with the busiest time of day and how they copes with the pressure that the busy time can bring.

Put yourself in the place of a patient – see it from their eyes and ask yourself how do they see our Surgery?

Have a note-book with you and take notes – but the most important part of the exercise is not only to pick up on any negative issues but also highlight the positive issues too.

What should you be looking for:

  1.  Is patient confidentiality being broken? Can people in the waiting room hear conversations from the Reception Desk? Patient confidentiality it vital in any Practice – and more so at the front desk.
    People in the waiting room can often hear conversations at the front desk. Make
    sure you staff use as little personal information as possible. Make sure that
    all your staff has the appropriate training on Patient Confidentiality. (see
    blog on A Quick Confidentiality Checklist. http://t.co/S3E94mU8)
  2.  How does the Receptionist interact with the patients? Do they have good eye contact? Are they polite and always helpful? It is easy to be short with patients when you have a queue of people at the front desk. Training in dealing with such times is vital – train your staff in dealing with such times –
    how to move patients on quickly without being rude or appearing that they are
    not caring. A smile and a thank you go a long way.
  3. How does the Receptionist answer the phone? Is it answered quickly enough? Does the Receptionist deal with the call efficiently? Always make sure that your staff answers the phone with good morning/good afternoon – the name of the surgery and their own name. Staff than give their name takes ownership of the call more than those that do not give their name. Again, if they are in ear shot of the waiting room it is important that they remember Patient Confidentiality.
  4. What are the other staff doing whilst the busy time is happening – are they helping out?  Often in Surgeries you have Receptionists at the front desk and others doing other things such as admin, typing, prescriptions – have you got a contingency plan for such busy times – if someone is busy on the front desk or on the phone do you have someone who can come and help out for short periods of time.
  5. Can you hear conversations between Receptionists behind the desk? When the quieter times come Receptionists often will have a little chat – but they should be made aware to be careful on what they are chatting about – I had an incident where 3 Receptionists were discussing a TV programme that was on the night before. They were discussing the programme about Breast Cancer and about a lady having terminal Cancer – they talked in-depth about the programme – talking about people who had lost relative/friends to the horrible illness. What there were not aware of was a patient was sitting listening to them in the waiting room that had just recently been diagnosed with Breast Cancer – she found the conversation very upsetting. Whilst I was doing
    this exercise I also heard Receptionists discussing an issue that could have
    upset a patient in the waiting room.
  6. Is the Reception area being kept clean and tidy? It is important to
    keep your reception area clean and tidy. Not just for a good impression but for
    Health and Safety reasons too – magazines, children’s toys left lying around on
    the floor is dangerous – someone could easily slip and fall.
  7. Are the patients kept waiting for long periods of time (often a problem in surgeries) This unfortunately happens in every surgery. Observe how your patients feel about it – and how your Receptionists deal with the patients if they come back to the desk to complain/enquire about their appointment running late. Do you have a policy on Doctors/Nurses running late?Do you have a surgery policy about Doctors/Nurses running late?

After you have done your observation bring them to your next staff meeting.

I always find the best way to approach this is to tell your staff that it was not an exercise to “catch them out” but an exercise to find if and where improvements can be made.

Always start with the positive notes you have:

  •  How well you thought the receptionist dealt with a certain patient/incident.
  • How good their telephone manner is.
  • How lovely and tidy the reception areas looks.
  • How pleased you were to see others helping each other at the
    busiest time.
  • How good they are with dealing with confidentiality.

Then

If there are any (and I am sure there will be) go onto the negative things that you found – discuss them and ask your team to give their opinion. Ask if there is a better way it can be dealt with. Include them in any decision-making. Include them in your findings.

Staff do not like change so I always used to say – we can change it, try it and if it does not work we can look at it again.  This always used to work.

Make minutes of the meeting – ensure that you record any changes that are going to be made and ensure that everyone has a copy – including those that were unable to attend the meeting.

Turn those negative into positives.

The Million Pound Cheque


Following on from a recent blog re “The Urine Sample Pot” I have another story to share you will regarding the friendly GP – Dr Paul


I was in reception before morning surgery began opening the daily post.   In walks Dr Paul. He took his post out of his tray and started his daily signing of prescriptions, letters and other requests. The Practice Manager came along and asked him for a cheque that he was due to give to her. He got out his cheque book and wrote the check as requested.

I turned to him and asked while he was writing out cheques could he do one for me!! “No probs” was his reply – and duly wrote a cheque out to me – he wrote my full name on the cheque, dated and signed it and gave it to me.

The cheque was made out for one million pounds. We had a good laugh and I said that I probably would never have a cheque like this again and that I was going to frame it!!

A couple of weeks later I was working for the out of hours service and was working with a GP who happened to be a good friend of Dr Pauls, and was just as mad as he was.

I told him about the cheque and with a big grin and a twinkle in his eye said………right let’s get him!!

The out of ours GP took the cheque – and phoned me a couple of days later. He had arranged for his secretary to phone Dr Paul the following week – on the 1st April – April Fools Day.

Picture the moment – the secretary phones me and we had a chat – she was well and truly up for the joke as I put “the call” through to Dr Paul. I phoned him in his room – told him that I had his bank on the phone – he had a rep in his room with him at the time but was happy to take the call. Even better as the rep in there would be able to tell us his reaction.

I put the call through……………………….. About 4 minutes later all I hear is you bas***ds coming along the corridor – luckily there were not patients in the waiting room!!

Speaking to the rep later he said that we had well and truly had ‘got him’. His face was just a picture. The rep said that he had NEVER seen Dr Paul  lost for words. He certainly was on this occasion. All he kept saying to the caller on the end of the phone “this is a big mistake”.

Speaking to Dr Paul afterwards he said couldn’t believe that he had been well and truly caught. He said the call came through and the secretary made out that a cheque for a million pounds had been presented to the bank – and asked when he was going to put the funds into his account to cover this. He tried to explain that it was a joke and it shouldn’t have been banked. To which she replied “well Sir the cheque is dated and signed by you – is it not” to which he had to say yes!! The conversation went on and obviously the secretary was making life very difficult for him – she kept asking him difficult questions – until he heard the other Doctor in the background laughing!!! Game over.

He took it very well – relieved I think that this wasn’t really happening.

He came out into reception and gave me a friendly thump! The secretary on the other hand got a box of chocolates from him for the laugh!

I never got the cheque back – shame – as I said before – it probably will be the one and only time that I will ever get a cheque for one million pounds.

The Million Pound Cheque


Following on from my most recent blog re “The Urine Sample Pot” I have another story to share you will regarding the friendly GP – Dr Paul


I was in reception before morning surgery began opening the daily post.   In walks Dr Paul. He took his post out of his tray and started his daily signing of prescriptions, letters and other requests. The Practice Manager came along and asked him for a cheque that he was due to give to her. He got out his cheque book and wrote the check as requested.

I turned to him and asked while he was writing out cheques could he do one for me!! “No probs” was his reply – and duly wrote a cheque out to me – he wrote my full name on the cheque, dated and signed it and gave it to me.

The cheque was made out for one million pounds. We had a good laugh and I said that I probably would never have a cheque like this again and that I was going to frame it!!

A couple of weeks later I was working for the out of hours service and was working with a GP who happened to be a good friend of Dr Pauls, and was just as mad as he was.

I told him about the cheque and with a big grin and a twinkle in his eye said………right let’s get him!!

The out of ours GP took the cheque – and phoned me a couple of days later. He had arranged for his secretary to phone Dr Paul the following week – on the 1st April – April Fools Day.

Picture the moment – the secretary phones me and we had a chat – she was well and truly up for the joke as I put “the call” through to Dr Paul. I phoned him in his room – told him that I had his bank on the phone – he had a rep in his room with him at the time but was happy to take the call. Even better as the rep in there would be able to tell us his reaction.

I put the call through……………………….. About 4 minutes later all I hear is you bas***ds coming along the corridor – luckily there were not patients in the waiting room!!

Speaking to the rep later he said that we had well and truly had ‘got him’. His face was just a picture. The rep said that he had NEVER seen Dr Paul  lost for words. He certainly was on this occasion. All he kept saying to the caller on the end of the phone “this is a big mistake”.

Speaking to Dr Paul afterwards he said couldn’t believe that he had been well and truly caught. He said the call came through and the secretary made out that a cheque for a million pounds had been presented to the bank – and asked when he was going to put the funds into his account to cover this. He tried to explain that it was a joke and it shouldn’t have been banked. To which she replied “well Sir the cheque is dated and signed by you – is it not” to which he had to say yes!! The conversation went on and obviously the secretary was making life very difficult for him – she kept asking him difficult questions – until he heard the other Doctor in the background laughing!!! Game over.

He took it very well – relieved I think that this wasn’t really happening.

He came out into reception and gave me a friendly thump! The secretary on the other hand got a box of chocolates from him for the laugh!

I never got the cheque back – shame – as I said before – it probably will be the one and only time that I will ever get a cheque for one million pounds.