Confidentiality – The Telephone Call

I arrived home yesterday evening  to find a message on the answer machine. It had been left at 2.00 pm.

It was from a consultants secretary whom I have an appointment next week.

She gave her first name, adding she was the secretary and gave the consultants name. She then went on to ask if I could give her a ring regarding my appointment with him next week she gave the time and date of my appointment she left her telephone number and asked me to call her.

This call breaks patient confidentiality.

As a Receptionist how would you have dealt with the call when you found that the patient was not in?

I know it is very difficult when you have to speak to a patient and you get an answer machine. But it is important that you do not leave any patient information for others to hear.

Does your Practice have a policy on telephone patients and leaving messages?

1.       What could the secretary have done differently when making the call?

  • When the secretary phoned she should have not mentioned anything about an appointment.  Or given any indication of the consultant’s name.


  • I might not have wanted anyone in the house knowing that I had such an appointment with the consultant. It could have been of a delicate nature.
  • What if I had been a student in a household with other residents and my information was given out on the telephone?
  • What if the patient was a young person and they did not want their parents knowing.  (see blog:  Young Patients and Confidentiality )

2.  What could the Secretary have done to keep the call confidential?

  • She could have just left her first name and asked me to call her back.  For another person listening to the call it could have sounded like a friend calling.
  • She could have tried calling me on my mobile number which is a bit more secure in as much as I would probably be the one to answer.
  • She could have text me and ask me to call.
  • She could have left the call and tried again later that afternoon
  • Or she could have sent me out a letter if there had been enough time.
  • She could have tried phoning again the next day.

As a Receptionist working in a Surgery you will often get to know your patients and therefore able to judge such calls – if you know that certain patients are happy for you to phone and leave a message perhaps you could put a note on their records to say – helping others when they have to make that phone call.

If you work in a Hospital or a similar environment you might not know the patient you are phoning (like my situation today) so please take into consideration patient confidentiality.

Most people are happy for you to phone and leave a message – but there are the odd occasions whereby people do not want their information given out in such a way.


Does Your Staff Wear Name Badges


Do you have name badges for your staff and what are the advantages of wearing them?

Wearing a name badge will help identify that they are a member of staff especially if your staff do not wear a uniform. These are especially useful in a large organisation like a hospital or a Nursing Home.

Why Wear A Name Badge?

Some staff are not keen on wearing a name badge but there are a lot of advantages of them doing so.

Discuss at interview stage that if they take the position that they will be required to wear a name badge.

Discuss with your staff at team meetings the importance of wearing their badges.

Think carefully before you decide what will be put on the name badges. For Receptionists and administrators I just have their first name and job title on the badge. Senior Management would have their full name and title.

Why just first names?

True Story

Many years ago I worked for the local council and we had to wear name badges which had our first name and surname on. One of the girls had an unusual surname and one of the customers took a “shine” to her – so much so he looked her home telephone number up in the telephone book and starting phoning her at home – he become so what of a nuisance and the police had to be called. The girl in question believed it was the name badge that had caused the problem.  

Another advantage for staff wearing name badges is to help all new staff. Have you ever been in the position where on your first day you are introduced to EVERYONE – and then the next day forget half of their names – even what their job roles are – there is nothing worse is there? Having staff wearing name badges helps in that situation and the new person soon gets to know who everyone is without having to keep asking “sorry! What was your name again?”

Name badges and uniforms can make your organisation look so much more professional.

Visitors / Contractors Name Badges

Anyone such as visitors or contractors that is going to have access to your Practice should be identifiable. They should be asked to sign the visitors / contractors book. This will be useful in the event of an evacuation – the visitor’s book will indicate people other than staff that are in the building.

It is important that when the visitor or contractor is finished in the building that they sign out in the visitors book and return the visitors badge.

Like staff visitors/contractors are easily identifiable. It is important that anyone that has access to your building has permission to do so.

As a manager would you stop someone in the building if they did not have a visitors badge on?

Sending out Letters to Patients

I had a frantic phone call one Friday evening from a good friend – she was in a right panic. She had received a letter from her Surgery (not the one that I worked at) asking her to make an appointment to see the Doctor regarding her recent smear test.

She didn’t know what to do; she had in previous years had abnormal smear results and of course was now thinking the worse.

I tried my best to console her – but she had made her mind up – she convinced herself that the Doctor was calling her in to tell her she had cancer.

As you can imagine she had a very stressful and sleepless weekend.

Monday morning came and she rang the Surgery – at first she was told that there were not appointments that day – but she insisted on seeing the Doctor.

Her appointment was for 11.00 – she was at the surgery at 10.00 – she sat and waited – she was called in to see the Doctor for him to tell her that the smear had not been taken correctly and it would need to be repeated. That was it – it needed to be repeated – more than likely the nurse may  not have taken it correctly.

To say she was over the moon was an understatement. But the worry she went through that weekend was awful.

So, it got me thinking – how many other people received letters at the weekend that could cause worry and concerns – having to wait until Monday morning before speaking to a Health Care Professional? Probably quite a few I should imagine.

So, I spoke to the Partners at our next staff meeting and we all agreed that such letters that were not urgent and could cause concern to patients or their families would be posted on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, hopefully arriving before the weekend and if the patient was concerned at all they could phone or make an appointment to speak to or see a Doctor

If there was an urgent letter that needed to go out on either the Thursday or Friday and the Doctors felt it might cause some concerns one of the Doctors would phone and explain the letter was on its way and if the patient had any concerns they would try to answer their questions.

True Story

I recently spoke to a mum who young son was having various tests done at her local hospital. She received a telephone call from the consultant at 7.30 on a Friday evening asking her how her son was – he asked her if he had got any worse, he asked if he had been with any cattle she was a bit alarmed at the call. He asked her to bring him in again on the Monday for some more blood tests. She admitted that she was a bit concerned – more blood test – but put it to the back of her mind for the weekend. Her and her son had a fun packed weekend which she said was one of the best.

She went with her mum to see the Consultant on the Monday they he gave them the devastating news that her son had cancer – the consultant had known that on the Friday when he spoke to her.

This consultant had given this thought – he wanted to spare her the heartache for a few more days – he knew by telling her the news on the Friday that her world would come crashing down – he knew she was on her own at the time – he spared that until he had her face to face and could go through the options and treatment for her little boy. This is something she is eternally grateful to that Consultant for.

It’s not what we do but how we do it that can have such a bit impact on people.


Does your Practice send out recall letters on a Friday so the patients will receive them on a Saturday?

Privacy Curtains – the Protocol


I speak a lot in my blogs of Team Work. As a manager you can only be as successful as your team will allow you to be.

It is vital to have support from your team. Communication is a two-way thing. Your team not only learn from you but you can learn from them too. After all they are the ones facing the many obstacles that come up on a day-to-day basis. Learn to listen to your team and let them know that you are on their side.  Often staff can see Management as the “enemy” it does not have to be like that. Make your team feel that they are part of YOUR team.

A thank you at the end of the day can mean so much. When asking a team member to do a task always ask in a polite way – and always thank them and tell them that you appreciate their help.

The best way to share good ideas is at staff meetings – always use staff meetings to your advantage – include the staff in these meetings – make them a two-way thing – staff will feel that they are part of it that way and will be more inclined to attend.

Let me share with you an example of how a new protocol/procedure was written for the Surgery from one of these meeting.

It was the normal monthly Receptionists Meeting – the agenda had gone out and as always everyone had the opportunity of adding an item to the agenda.

One of the Receptionists had added “Privacy Curtains” to the agenda.

The meeting started and came to the part of the agenda that she had added.

She suggested that the girls at the Reception desk have access to privacy curtains as she had recently had an experience whereby her own father had collapsed  and died in his own Doctors waiting room with a heart attack and was left lying on the floor until the Doctor came out to him and took the necessary action. During this time patients were all watching what was going on – and the receptionists at the Surgery found this quite stressful.  Our Receptionist felt that her dad was on “show” and found this quite upsetting.

So, from a personal experience we wrote a Surgery policy on what would happen in the event of someone collapsing in Reception.

Some of the points that were taken into consideration were:

  • Who to notify in the event of a patient collapsing – first the Doctor – but as you know there is not always a Doctor on the premises. So your receptionists need to know what to do in that event – I would suggest calling the nurse, or if she is not on the premises call an ambulance.
  • A Receptionist would they get the privacy curtains and put these around the patient giving them a bit of privacy.
  • If in the rare event that a patient has died you might need to evacuate the waiting room as the patient might be there some time until the appropriate people have been notified. Maybe direct the patients into another area or another room.
  • It is important that your Receptionists will need to know what to do in the event of an evacuation.

It is rare that this happens – but it is how you or your team deal with it that can make all the difference.

Has your Surgery got such a protocol in place?