Guest Blog: Make Someone Happy – Julie Bissett, Practice Managers Magazine

I would like to thank Julie Bissett who is a freelance journalist and editor of Practice Management Magazine for her guest post


Make someone happy

Julie Bissett asks what better way to improve your patients’ day than with a smile and some good humour

‘Smile if you’ve had it lately’ – these were the words on a bumper sticker my father slapped onto the back of our Ford Escort during the 1970s. I believe it was promotional merchandise for a local garage advertising their servicing provisions. Not a man given to crude innuendo, I was mortified at dad – and the sticker’s – suggestive tone. Dad, meanwhile, thought this even funnier than the cheeky message it conveyed to car drivers behind us.

We may have missed a trick here – what a fabulous tagline for a GP practice! Or maybe not…

But the real point is that, firstly, we all love a laugh and, secondly, we all welcome a smile, especially when stressed. On a bad day, the meeting of patient and GP receptionist can seem like the paradox of immovable object versus an unstoppable force – and, surely, something’s got to give?


It may be tough to do – but a smile really does conquer the toughest of customers’ attitudes. We all need something to positively trigger our thoughts, senses and actions when we’re feeling fraught, ill or worried – and nowhere is this more relevant than at the reception desk of a GP practice.

In the increasingly competitive world of healthcare, a practice now needs to promote itself in the same sassy style as an advertising campaign might, for it cannot afford to get left behind, remain staid and prescriptive, or, indeed, come under fire in an increasingly ‘TripAdvisor’-esque world of online healthcare feedback forums.

A front desk team is a GP practice’s shop window that needs to welcome its audience – the patients – with a massive desire for them to be on side in an environment hugely pressurised. It’s you, the receptionist, often taking the brunt of the day-to-day demands on a practice. Many people demand your time – from GPs and practice nurses to pharmacists, specialists and hospital consultant PAs.

There are equipment suppliers to consider, recruitment agencies on your tail and protocols to adhere to and to remind everyone else about, also. You handle referral letters, prescription requests, and doctors’ letters. Patients –whether on the phone, in an email or face to face – should live up to their name while you juggle all this and more, shouldn’t they?

KISS principle

The KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) – the acronym used by designers and engineers – translates well into the medical arena. Without meaning to offend, we should all strive to reach the lowest common denominator when communicating; not because we consider our patients incapable of understanding the science behind the mechanics of their care but because we all lead busy lives and bullet-point information is the perfect way to ensure we convey – and they retain – knowledge we expect to be squeezed into brains already jam-packed with ‘stuff’.

Look at life around us and consider what works and what we now instantly recognise – and why:
• Golden arches means ‘fast food here’
• A flashing SLOW DOWN sign means that: slow down in a built-up area
• And a beautifully shot retro TV ad of a truck ploughing through the snow with Coca Cola on its side can only mean that the Christmas ‘Holidays are coming’.

A smile could be YOUR practice’s very own marketing icon – it’s very difficult to remain angry when anyone smiles at you. It’s a reminder that we’re all human – even tricky patients and much-maligned doctors’ receptionists. It’s simple idea; it may also prove great marketing – but, most importantly, it’s a healthy option for us all.




Creating the Right Impression


Creating the right impression is vital in any organisation.

Look around your working area and ask yourself

  • What improvements can be made?
  • Can you make the improvements?
  • Can my fellow members made the improvements?
  • Can the Practice make the improvements?


Not all improvements require expense. Improvements could be in various different ways and perhaps by just changing some of your Reception/Waiting area could vastly improve and give a better service to your patients.

A number of factors help create the right impression, including:


Have a look around your reception area. Is the layout satisfactory? Is there room for improvement? Does the reception area work well. Does it give your patients the confidentiality that they need? Can patients sitting in the waiting room hear conversations that you might be having on the telephone or at the front desk?

Can the patient seen your computer screen while they are standing at the reception desk?

It is impossible in some situations to avoid this from happening – especially in older buildings where often space is limited if this is the case you do need to review this and ensure that more care and attention is taken whilst talking on the telephone or at the front desk.


We could always do with more space. Look around you. Is everything where it should be? Look at things in your Reception area that are not used very often. Are there boxes stacked in a corner – ie boxes of repeat prescriptions, boxes of practice leaflets? Why not leave one box and store the others somewhere until they are needed. Quite often by just keeping your Reception area tidy will create a lot more space.


Have you got sufficient signs up in your Surgery? It is vital that you have the usual “fire exit” and “way out” signs, but it is also very important that you have adequate signs signposting patients to the right areas. Each room should be numbered or have the healthcare professionals name on. Toilets should be clear to see as well as areas that are out of bound to patients. The signs easy to read and placed in the appropriate places.

Many Surgeries these days are big buildings, they have several services going on throughout the day and often healthcare professionals can “share” rooms – which mean quite often the patient might be going to different rooms each time. Make sure you inform the patient when they arrive, or have some form of letting the patient know exactly which room they have to go to if  you don’t you will find that a patient could quite easily walk in on consultation already taking place. Dont take it for granted that the patient will know where they have to go.


Your waiting room should be a nice quite area for patients to sit. Piped music can sometimes help, especially if there is a possibility that they can hear the Reception staff. Some surgeries have a TV in their waiting room – remember not to have this playing too loudly and more importantly keep a close watch on what is being shown. Remember that there are young children in the waiting room and some things shown might not be suitable to them to watch.

It is important to remember that some people in the waiting room will be feeling unwell, they deserve quite where at all possible.


Who is responsible for ensuring that the Reception is kept tidy – is it always “left” for someone else to do it?

(Story of Four People

Everyone should take a fair share in ensuring that it’s kept tidy – discuss ways that you can improve on the space at your next Receptionists Meeting.

A surgery that I worked at the Receptionist that was working on a Saturday morning was responsible for having a tidy around – Saturdays were usually the least busy time. It was always nice to come into work on a Monday to find the Reception area nice and tidy.

Its amazing how a tidy work place can make you feel more positive.

Go to the other side of the Reception Desk – view it as the patient would view it. What do you see? Do you see a nice tidy Reception area – or do you see clutter? If you see clutter or rubbish it’s time to have a good tidy up.


As a Receptionist you are the ambassadors of your Practice. Along with a good clutter free Reception area a well-groomed member of staff makes a great difference.

Most surgeries these days have uniforms for their staff. Many are happy to go along with this; some would prefer to use their own clothes.

From a managers point of view it is so much easier to have the staff all dressed the same. It looks smart, and from a patients point of view staff are very easily identified.


Staff when on duty should remain professional at all times. There are times when situations can get out of hand and staff might have a difference of opinion. Words may be exchanged. But this should NEVER happen in the reception area. If you feel that situation is getting out of hand in the Reception area then take the members of staff into an area where it can be sorted – out of sight and hearing from the patients or anyone else waiting in the surgery.


Facial expressions can say so much. Never ever roll your eyes – even behind patient backs or while you are on the telephone whatever the reason – you never know who could be watching you and this only gives a wrong impression of not only you but the surgery.

Remember the sayings “turn that frowns upside down” and  “Smile and the world smiles with you”


Tone of voice is important – especially when speaking to someone over the telephone. Keep your tone light, friendly and helpful.


Posture is not only essential for your health it is important to have a good posture at work as it gives a good impression. No one likes to see someone “slumped” sitting at the desk. Quite often you will be sat or standing at the desk for several hours, having a bad posture will play havoc with your back.

Some tips for creating the right impression

  • Greet the patients pleasantly
  • Make eye contact
  • Use names – make them feel special
  • Give your full attention at all times
  • Show respect for the patients and your work colleagues
  • Be helpful
  • Be confident
  • Be positive
  • Be efficient
  • Be caring