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03-03-2013 | Article

Receptionists handle the heat of the front line

Working in primary care can be challenging, high pressure and involves facing a demanding public every working day. Of course, it is not just GPs who have to handle this tough environment but the whole primary care workforce as well.

One group who truly faces the front line are receptionists. They have sometimes received bad press in the past, being portrayed as the "dragons" who allegedly "protect" the doctors from their patients. This may or may not have been the case many years ago but is certainly far from true today.

A modern GP receptionist has a difficult role in helping the patient best access the service. They are the gatekeepers to the gatekeepers - a far from easy and, occasionally, thankless task.

This has been recognised in a recent paper published in the British Journal of General Practice, as highlighted in a recent Univadis Medical News article (click here).

It states: "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 article also notes that any failings in the function of a receptionist may be in part due to the way the practice is set up.

Reception staff, as well as other ancillary staff, are very important when it comes to the dynamics of a successful practice. The receptionist's reactions, helpfulness and friendliness significantly impact the view of the patient when they come into contact with the practice.

But a receptionist's role is far more sophisticated than just a "meet and greet" service; the authority, discretion and autonomy they are allowed has a significant role in service delivery. In order to safely provide them with this flexibility, receptionists need training, clear instructions and knowledge of where the boundaries lie. This takes time, effort and investment but it is essential. Maybe we should be spending more time looking at this area and seeing what we can achieve?

Best wishes,


Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis

Dr Harry Brown