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 and their Samples

You think that nothing will surprise you being a Doctors Receptionist. If you haven’t seen
or heard it before as sure as eggs are eggs you will do some time soon.

There are ups and downs working on the front desk – you might be the one to take “that” emergency call, hear of a patient’s death that you got to know so well – or perhaps have the tongue of an angry patient. But there are also nicer sides – the new mums coming in with pride to show you their new babies – the children popping up over the desk showing you their new shoes or telling you excitedly about their day and the elderly popping in the odd cake in for you all to have with a cuppa.

And there are the funny stories – let me share a couple with you…………….

Being on the front desk is not just making appointment and booking people in. There are various other tasks that you have to do and one of them is taking charge of “samples” that patients are asked to bring in to be tested at the surgery or sent off to the local hospital.

Samples come in all shapes and sizes from wee samples, stool (poo) samples, toe nail cuttings, and phlegm.

Most patients will discretely pass the sample over the desk to you – and some will have no fears of holding up the sample and loudly telling you what is in the container. And asking for your comments on them!!!!

The Receptionist has to take the sample pot and ensure that all the patients’ details are entered onto the container – which is vital for the hospital. We have to ensure that there is no way that the container could be mixed up with another patient. So they have to ensure the patients name and the patients DOB (date of birth) are on the container.

So – in comes Mrs Dixon – she approaches the desk – and loudly tells me that she has been asked to bring in a poo sample from Jimmy – her 4-year-old son – she progresses to tell me just how difficult it was to obtain the sample from him and they produces the poo sample in a children’s bucket (as in bucket and spade). She was most surprised when I told her that we could not accept the sample from the bucket – and it had to be taken and put straight into the supplied container – which was sterile.  She expected me to transfer the poo from the bucket into a new container – without even realising that the child’s bucket in fact was not a sterile container – which the poo needed to be in. She was most put out when I advised her to take another sterile container away and bring it back with the appropriate contents in it.

Then some months later Mrs Stafford comes into the surgery – she was asked to produce a urine sample for testing in the surgery. She handed me a plastic container with the urine in – and asked when it had been tested could I please keep hold of the container for her to collect next time she was in because it was one of her best Tupperware containers. I often wondered what else she used it for after that.

As you can imagine at the time these did not seem funny at the time, but after the event it did bring a smile to my face when I thought back.

People come in all shapes and sizes and you can never take anything for granted – especially beyond the reception desk.


All names in this post have been changed to keep the identity of the patient.