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03-11-2011 | General practice | Article

Receptionists ‘make repeat-scripts safer’


BMJ 2011; Advance online publication

Practice receptionists often intervene to help safeguard patients receiving repeat prescriptions, researchers report in the BMJ.

They say that receptionists do important, hidden work to bridge the gap between what can be achieved with formal prescribing protocols and what actually happens in practice, contributing more than GPs may be aware to the process.

The team, led by Dr Deborah Swinglehurst from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, observed staff at four urban practices, including 25 doctors, 16 nurses, four healthcare assistants, six managers and 56 reception/administrative staff, for a total of 395 hours.

Of note, over half of patient requests were classed as exceptions by receptionists, usually because the drug, dose, or timing differed from what was on the electronic repeat list. In these cases, receptionists were often able to address the problem using their own knowledge and experience.

The findings suggest that over-reliance on electronic health records could be harmful, highlighting the need for training in repeat prescribing to go beyond technology, say the authors.

However, Professor Anthony Avery (University of Nottingham) questions whether there is sufficient evidence to inform guidance on the scope and limits of receptionists' responsibilities.

"It seems reasonable to encourage well trained receptionists to use their initiative in repeat prescribing, but practices need to ensure that members of staff do not step beyond their levels of knowledge and competence," he writes in a related editorial.

He calls for further research to better quantify the relative roles of receptionists and new technologies such as electronic repeat dispensing, and practice variations in prescribing error rates.

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Caroline Price