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26-02-2013 | Article

Receptionist ‘dragon’ reputation refuted

Abstract

Br J Gen Pr

2013;

63

: e177-e184

Practice receptionists are unfairly perceived as formidable gatekeepers to GPs, primary care researchers say.

They argue that receptionists face a difficult task prioritising patients in a short period of time, as well as having to deal with a wide range of other responsibilities that tend to go unrecognised by most lay people.

The research team, led by Jonathan Hammond from the University of Manchester, performed an ethnographic study that involved analysing over 200 hours of interactions between 45 GP receptionists and patients, and interviews with the receptionists. None of the practices studied had online appointment booking available.

As reported in the British Journal of General Practice, results showed that the receptionist's need to weigh up the urgency of a patient's complaint and make the decision to offer an urgent or routine appointment was often not straightforward - and further complicated by having to interpret individual patients' manner.

Contrary to their reputation, receptionists frequently showed that they acted as patients' advocates, for example to help them navigate the system to obtain a more urgent appointment even if they did not request this directly.

Individual practice policies and rules also impacted on the way that receptionists were able to handle patient interactions, with some unworkable because of language and literacy barriers, as did the culture and dynamics of practices - in particular with respect to how receptionists and health professionals interacted.

Hammond said in a press statement: "It might be the case that what are portrayed as individual failings on the part of receptionists are actually due to systemic problems within GP practices. Any further training to address negative aspects of receptionist-patient relationships should reflect on the organisation and social dynamics within practices if whole-practice functioning and overall patient care are to be improved."

Medical News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Caroline Price, Senior medwireNews Reporter