Doctors Receptionist Training: Elder Abuse

Unfortunately we are hearing too much on elder abuse these days. It is and has been in the headlines far too often, on TV in documentaries and even has been a big storyline in Emmerdale recently.

The vast majority of older people live full and active lives, enjoying good health, happiness and independence. Most older people play a valuable role in their communities and society generally. This is a cause for celebration. However, a small number of older people may experience mistreatment, neglect or abuse, and they may also experience more than one form of abuse at any given time.

As a receptionist you will often be privileged to information from patients they that might not chose to share with anyone else. I can recall many conversations with patients that shared some of their most inner secrets, fears and concerns.  If you have a good bond with patients they will often tell the receptionist something they might not want to tell the Doctor or Nurse.

As a receptionist will get to know your patients very well. You will chat to them on the phone, in person when they come to the surgery, and you even might know them if you live local to the Surgery. They will see you as a friendly face and someone who plays an important role in the Surgery.  You will find that you will bond really well with certain patients.

If you are in any doubt that a patient might be in some kind of danger, abuse or other then please share your concerns with a Doctor or a nurse at your Surgery. Do not discuss any of your concerns with anyone outside of the Surgery. Please remember patient confidentiality.

If you are a recepitonist in a Hospital  speak to your Manager/Team leader about your concerns.

What is Elder Abuse?

“A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates their human and civil rights”

Types of Elder Abuse

There are several forms of abuse, any or all of which may be perpetrated as the result of deliberate intent, negligence or ignorance.

Physical Abuse includes hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication, or inappropriate restraint.

Psychological abuse includes emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, intimidation or coercion.

Neglect and actions of omission include ignoring medical or physical care needs; failure to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services, the withholding of medication.

Discriminatory abuse includes ageism, racism, sexism that based on a person’s disability, and other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment

Financial or material abuse includes theft, fraud or exploitation; pressure in connection with wills, power of attorney, property, inheritance or financial transactions; or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

Who might abuse?

Any person or organisation may be guilty of abuse. Most often it is someone well-known to the older person, for example, a family member (as in the story line in Emmerdale), a relative, friend or care provider – a relationship where there is an expectation of trust. In some cases, organisations, through poor work practices or lack of appropriate training for staff in dealing and interacting with and understanding older people can unwittingly allow abuse to happen. Advantage may also be taken of the older person by unscrupulous individuals, such as bogus traders and callers – and of course we have all heard of such sad stories.

 Where can abuse happen?

 Abuse can take place anywhere; most abuse takes place in the home, whether the person is living along or with family. It may also occur within residential, day-care or hospital settings, other places assumed to be safe, or in a public place.

If you hear of a patient that maybe suffering abuse talk to someone you can trust in the Practice – the patient’s doctor or the Practice Nurse or Practice Nurse.

Elder people often cannot stand up for themselves; perhaps they are too frightened to tell anyone –  they often do not want to “worry anyone” such as their doctor or family members. Sometimes they do not even realise that they are suffering abuse of any kind. But one thing is for sure – elder people deserve respect, and help when needed.

How would YOU feel if it was your mum or dad, aunty or uncle, or elderly neighbour that was being abused. You would want it dealt with if it was I’m sure.

Disability Awarness and The Reception Desk

Back in 2010 I worked for a private hospital. All the staff from cleaners, receptionists, nurses and Doctors was all just so lovely – a great bunch of staff who all have exceptional customer care skills.

What did surprise me was that very few Receptionists (and some nursing staff) knew what the “nicely designed” reception desks were really for.

When I say “nicely designed” receptionists desks I mean the desks that were there to help assist the disabled, especially people in wheelchairs.

As you can see in the pictures the desks are designed in such a way that a disabled patient, can have easy access to the desk at all times.

The “modern” receptionist desks are usually quite high – this enables the receptionist to sit on a high chair or stand so they are at the same level as the person they are dealing with.

Can you see how difficult it would be for a wheelchair user at this desk?

So why should a disabled person be any different?

By having a lower desk it gives the disabled patient the option to sit at the lower part of the reception desk if they need to complete any necessary forms, or just to talk to a receptionist that is sitting on a low chair face to face rather than the receptionist standing and talking down to them. Its far more patient friendly doing it this way – and asking anyone that is either a receptionist or a disabled patient will both tell you it is a much nicer way to communicate. It is also excellent for confidentiality when the receptionist might be asking the patient some questions.

It is not just wheelchair users that may need this facility – people on crutches would be unable to stand at the higher desk to complete necessary forms, and of course there are others that are disabled that have no signs that they are – but they still may need to sit down to complete necessary forms or just to book future appointments.

So, to my dismay I actually witnessed a Receptionists standing talking down to a patient in a wheelchair at the highest part of the reception desk. The patient was asked to complete a form whereby the receptionist gave the patient a clipboard to balance on their lap whilst they completed the form. Other standing patients were crowding around the patient in the wheelchair and I am pretty sure they must have felt very uncomfortable.

I didn’t want to embarrass the receptionist or the patient so I let it go. But as soon as the patient had finished I asked the receptionist why she though the low part of the reception desk was for. She replied she thought it was just the design of the desk. She then laughed and asked was it was for sitting on!

I had to point it out it was actually there for disabled people to use – to enable them to complete any necessary forms at ease and the receptionist could speak to them at this point and avoid having to stand over and talk down to them – sitting on a low chair they would be talking to them face to face – as they would do with a patient that would be standing at the high part of the desk.

She was amazed and agreed it was a great idea. I asked several other receptionists after this and a good 30% of them were exactly the same and thought that it was just a design factor instead of being there to help the disabled.

Because of this the lower part of the desk designed to assist the disabled had no information leaflets like they had on the higher part of the desk, or pens that were needed to complete necessary forms.

So, do not take it for granted that a new member of staff will be aware of what this part of the desk is for – get your Supervisor or Team Leader to use this in their Reception training and always ensure that the lower desk is as well equipped as the higher part of the reception desk.

Receptionists Training: What NOT to say.

When working within a team it is vital to work with and support your fellow workers.

A good “work person” never blames his/her tools – and your team are your tool.

Here are some things you should NEVER say to a patient visitor or another member of your team.

  • You’ll have to………………………………..
  • Those people in …………………………… don’t know what they are doing.
  • That sounds like another problem we have been having
  • You shouldn’t have
  • YOU! (In its accusatory form)
  • It wasn’t me who did that it was …………………………………. (and name a person)

If a patient, customer or member of staff approach you and you identify a problem that you are unable to sort out – seek the advice or help from another member of your team or speak to your Team Leader/Supervisor or Manager – do not put the blame on someone else.  Support your fellow team members

and remember there is no  “I” in TEAM