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‘Privacy slips’ ease patient concerns about being overheard when sharing details with receptionists

by Emily Roberts
23 May 2024

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A GP practice has introduced a new solution for patients who feel uncomfortable having to share private details with receptionist staff about why they need an appointment in a public waiting area.  

The Unsworth Group Practice introduced ‘privacy slips’ six weeks ago at its two sites, the Blackrod Health Centre and Peter House Surgery, in Bolton, following concerns from patients. 

These allow patients to write down the reason they need an appointment on a piece of paper instead of asking them to verbalise it, ensuring sensitive or confidential information cannot be overheard by others in the waiting room.

Jo Lindsay, reception manager at Unsworth Group Practice, said the issue had been raised at a Patient Participation Group meeting.

She said: ‘There were a number of concerns from patients who felt that the reception area wasn’t private enough. However, we don’t have a separate we can use if patients want to discuss something personal’.

Ms Lindsay explained that patients are asked about the reasons for needing an appointment for care navigation.

‘We’re not asking them for lots of details but for a brief description to ensure they are booked in with the appropriate clinician whether it’s a nurse or doctor, and that they are receiving the appropriate level of care. It also helps us utilise appointments correctly, especially when there is a high demand for appointments.’

However, she said some patients would rather not talk about a medical condition in front of others in the waiting area, leading to the practice introducing privacy slips.

‘Now, when a patient arrives and wants to say something personal, rather than verbalise it, they can write it on a piece of paper with the reason why they need the appointment,’ explained Ms Lindsay.  

So far, the initiative – now a permanent measure at the surgeries – has been positively welcomed by patients. 

Kealey Bower, estates and IT assistant at the practice, said: ‘People have commented to reception staff that they welcome the privacy slips. It has been well received. 

‘It’s not being used by a high percentage of patients, but it offers reassurance that the option is there and if they want to share something private they can do so without everyone else listening.’

While writing down details is more time consuming than verbally explaining what is wrong, Ms Lindsay said patients can fill out the slips at home before coming to the surgery. 

She added: ‘It’s not about getting people in and out as quickly as possible, it’s about taking the time to help our patients. We haven’t seen it negatively impact waiting times.’

The slips ask for the patient’s name, date of birth, address and includes a space for them to write a comment. 

Once the receptionist has read the privacy slip and it has been dealt with, it is immediately disposed of in the confidential waste bin. 

It is hoped that the initiative will be shared with other practices with similar problems regarding privacy issues for patients. 

Ms Lindsay said the privacy slips show patients that the practice does listen and act on their concerns. 

She added: ‘Letting our patients know that feedback from them is really valuable . And they have the reassurance that where we can make changes we always will.’