Changing Times

I was chatting to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about the “old days” and what our memories were as a child and how things have changed especially in our line of work over the years.

Mine was visiting my doctor as a child and just how things have changes so much over the years.

As a child I remember going into this great big house, (as a child I would have described this as a mansion) which was the Doctors Surgery, and where she lived. I can still remember so many details of that house, the grounds the house stood on, the big sweeping driveway that you drove in one way and out the other, the ivy climbing the walls and the great big red door to the main house – I always wondered what was beyond that door (this was the main entrance to the big house)

The Surgery entrance was at the side of the house, a smaller less obvious door and was black in colour. We would walk through the door and straight into the small waiting room – the receptionist sat in the same room behind a desk with one cabinet that held the notes.

Just one Doctor and one Receptionist, not even a nurse.

No fax machines, no computers, no scanners just a desk, a telephone with one line and one filing cabinet.

I used to think the receptionist was a nurse as she wore a white  coat. Confidentiality was unheard of as the receptionist discussed ailments with the patients and many personal details given at the desk for all to hear. Everyone would hang on to her every word as she spoke to patients on the telephone – often speaking names, addresses and ailments – no confidentiality at all – yet it seems to be accepted.

No radio or telly playing the background, no toys for the children to play with just a room with chairs and the reception desk.

I remember later on in years I went into that same reception area and as I approached the desk the receptionist looked up, beamed and said congratulations on your pregnancy – the room was full of people, and people in there that I knew but the worse for me was I wasn’t actually pregnant, she had in fact got me mixed up with another patient. It never entered my head to complain, to me a mistake was made and she was truly sorry when she realised her mistake. I wonder how that would have been handled these days?

We would then get called through to see the Doctor – as a child I was always in awe of her – she was old (or old to me as a child) but the one thing that enticed me into her room was the great big jar of jelly babies that sat proudly on her desk – if I was good I would always get a jelly baby before we left her room. I remember once actually getting 2 – I cannot remember if this was by mistake or if I had been particularly good.

The room was grand, it had big French doors opening onto a big garden, which would be wide open in the summer and in the winter months she would have a big open fire blazing away, not a fire guard in sight and her much-loved sheep dog would be lying in front of it. No Health and Safety issues back in those days.

There were no disabled access for patients in wheelchairs or any aids for people with special needs.

Training for patient care was basic yet then sufficient. Training for general practice was in its infancy.

Years rolled on and practices expanded and the new receptionist fared only slightly better. Often “sitting with Mavis” was accepted, the only method of training new staff. “Mavis” would tell the new receptionist what to do, showed her how to do it, and after a couple of weeks left her to discover the rest for herself.

The title of Practice Manager was practically unknown; staff were expected to learn fast, no doubt acquiring good habits as well as bad. The knowledge and skills for the role as the receptionist were picked up by trial and error, and some very inappropriate attitudes were acquired along the way.

Over the years the importance of general practice within the health service increased in leaps and bounds.

Practices grew in numbers; multi disciplinary teams worked under the same roof, the Practice Managers became an extremely important part of the Practice. Larger Practices would have a whole management team run what now has gone from a one-doctor practice into a Practice that could have many doctors’ nurses and numerous other healthcare professionals working together with one aim – Patient Care.

Patient care, confidentiality and health and safety became a vital part of our working day.

However, sadly, until recently, the methods of training Receptionists within some organisations have failed to keep pace.

It is now generally accepted that quality of care and job satisfaction go hand in hand. Staff need to know not only what they are doing but also why they are doing it – “sitting with Mavis” is just not acceptable anymore.

Receptionists must understand their role and how their individual job contributes to the care of the patients and the smooth running of the whole practice.

Receptionists need not only to be trained but also to continue their education and personal development in order to keep up to date with an “ever changing role.”

Training Reception Staff

  • Initial assessment should be part of the selection process before employment.
  • What knowledge and skills does the applicant have as a result of past experience?
  • Is the applicant flexible to fit in with the team?
  • Are the applicants knowledge and skills appropriate, and, if not, can they be modified by training and experience?

Training Programmes

Planning Receptionist training must take account information about the following:

  • What the Practice believes that their Receptionists need in order to improve performances and satisfaction in their daily work.
  • What new skills and knowledge the Receptionist needs to gain in order to cope with change.
  • What the Receptionists themselves feels they need/would like to learn in order to expand their skills.

Has your Practice moved with the times? Do you support your Receptionists with training?


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Telephone Call From a 4 year old

When I was a receptionist I answered the forever ringing telephone early one Monday morning.

I gave the surgery name and followed this with my own name. I was not expecting the reply I received. A young voice came over the telephone asking me “who is that”.

I gave her my name again and straight away asked for her name. She gave me her first name – Holly.  I was very friendly towards her and told her my full name and asked her full name thankfully she gave me this – I was speaking to Holly Smith.

I took a note of the name and tried to keep her attention. I asked the girl where her mummy was and she replied that her mummy was “asleep” upstairs. I asked her if there was anyone else in the house besides her mummy and herself  – she confirmed that her uncle Dave has just left and it was just her and her mummy in the house. Holly seemed to be happy and not upset.

I asked what her mummy was called – she replied “mummy”.  I asked her if her mummy had another name – she replied “yes” “Mummy Smith”.

I asked the girl how old she was and she told me she was 4 years of age. I asked her if she went to school and she told me that she always went after lunch.

I asked Holly where she lived – and she said that she lived “down the road, the house with the blue gate”.

I realised at this point I was not going to get any more information out of Holly – I asked her to go and check her mummy again and to keep hold of the telephone as I wanted to talk to her some more.

She came back on the phone and confirmed that her mummy would not wake up. She then quickly said to be “I have to go now” and put the phone down.

While having the telephone conversation I put Holly’s name into the computer, she was a patient at our surgery and the records showed that she was in fact 4 years of age. It also confirmed that her mum was also a patient at the surgery. We had an address – but there was no telephone number listed.

I went into the duty doctor and informed him of the conversation, he said that he would go around to the house immediately – I also informed the Health Visitor. She said that she would go with the doctor. The Health Vistor knew the family and felt she could be support if needed.

While the Doctor and the Health Visitor were on their way I phoned directory enquiries to see if they had a number listed for that address – they did.

I phoned the number and Holly picked up the phone – I told her who I was and she remembered me. I asked if her mummy was still asleep and she replied “no mummy is taking a bath now”.  I asked her to tell her mummy that I was on the phone – but she replied with “I have to go now”– and put the phone down.

The Doctor and Health Visitor arrived shortly after and found one very embarrassed mum in her dressing gown. They explained what had happened and pleased that all was ok. Mrs Smith said that she would make sure that it didn’t happen again.


1.        As a Receptionist would you have done anything differently?

2.       What do you think was important in this incident?

3.       What could be done to make a similar situation easier to deal with?


1.        As a Receptionist I felt that I did as much as I could have done in this situation. I  got the information that was needed and from that we were able to confirm that the patient (or her daughter) was not in any danger.

2.        The most important thing is to get a name, a contact telephone number and an address – and if you can a date of birth. Try putting this into the computer as you get the information at the same time to see if they match up.

Try to get as much information as you can.

Speed on such an incident is vital.

Once you have sufficient information ensure that you pass this onto the correct person to deal with (ie duty Doctor / Nurse / Ambulance Control)

If Holly had continued talking to me I would not have disconnected the call – I would have passed this on to another Receptionist to deal with whilst I continued to chat to Holly – it would be better her talking to me rather than being perhaps on her own with a poorly mum to deal with.

If there had been a health care professional in the reception area at the time I would have got them to have taken over the call – but in this instance that was not possible – so I had to deal with the call.

3.        The most important thing from this was to get a telephone number for the family. I had the girl’s name, but no address and if I had not been able to obtain a telephone number we would have been powerless on what to do next – and would have probably had to report it to the police.

The lesson from this was I made notices to put up in the surgery and left leaflets on the reception desk asking patient to update us with their telephone numbers. It was quite scary just how many patients we did not have telephone numbers for – and quite a few that in fact had changes their telephone numbers. 

Also when patient phoned in to make appointments or with any queries I got in the habit of checking if we had a telehpone number for them and updated their records if we did not.

This incident was before we had phones that had caller id– but of course not all numbers come up – some are withheld – so do not rely on this alone.

Have you ever had such an incident in your surgery?