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Lack of receptionist input detrimental to consultation alternatives, study warns

by Valeria Fiore
5 June 2018

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Practice managers should involve receptionists during the planning stages when considering introducing alternatives to face-to- face appointments, a study has concluded.
The research, published today in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), looked at the role receptionists play in the implementation of alternative approaches to face-to-face consultations.
The study was based on data collected between June 2015 and May 2016 from eight practices in England and Scotland that had offered alternative to face-to-face appointments.
Researchers found that the practices had not involved reception staff in deciding which alternatives to traditional appointments to introduce, or discussed with them what they hoped to achieve by implementing them. 
The research said: ‘There was little evidence that receptionists had been consulted about implementation or consideration [even though] such a change would impact on the receptionists’ workload.’
In addition, no recognition was given to the potential difficulties, such as an increased workload, reception staff might  face as a result of the implementation of the new consultation services, the researchers added.
Slow uptake
The study’s lead author Dr Heather Brant and her colleagues found that the ‘uptake of [consultation] alternatives was low in all practices’.
They attributed this to a mismatch between the practices’ motives for introducing the innovation and the ‘perceived benefits that receptionists associated with the new approach’.
Only one anonymous practice manager, who was interviewed by the researchers, had thought to ask their receptionists how they would cope with the new system.
She said: ‘I went down to reception and there was a team meeting, so I sat down with them and said: “Look, here it is, this is what it is going to do, how would you manage it?’
Increased workload
As part of the General Practice Forward View, NHS England has invested £45m to help practices purchase online consultation systems, seen as one of the solutions to making  the best possible use of clinicians’ time.
However, the research said that not enough consideration was given to how these systems would reduce pressure for admin staff – with several of the interviewees reporting an increase in demands following the introduction of face-to-face substitutions.
The study concluded: ‘Clarity about the rationale for any changes needs to be discussed throughout the team, otherwise there is a risk that the planned changes will be less successful than expected.
‘Involving the wider practice team, including the reception staff, in discussions and planning can ensure that they are suitably prepared to support the introduction of alternatives to face- to- face consultations.’