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Face of the practice

22 November 2016

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First impressions in general practice lie with one person – the receptionist. A good receptionist can communicate the message that the surgery is welcoming, efficient and friendly. A bad receptionist can convey a cantankerous, incompetent and unhelpful message. Surgeries are now small businesses and GPs – along with practice managers – have huge responsibilities that mean they can’t take the initial patient-facing roles. A lot rests on this position, so the receptionist must be recruited with care.

An impressive receptionist is able to think speedily, find resolutions to issues, handle difficult situations, know when to ask for help and make patients feel they’re in safe hands. A good receptionist should be knowledgeable about the practice and aware of the need to be professional. They must be calm when 10 patients are waiting at reception, seven phone lines are ringing and they have just been told a nurse is off sick.

Key skills are administration and time management. The receptionist should be able to free up time for other roles in the practice and work well alongside the whole team, organising and sharing duties. A fabulous receptionist wants to make life easier for the whole team. If a record is needed urgently, they should know where it is. Crucial phone numbers should be on their fingertips. Everyone will have an example of working with someone who is not a team player.

The consequences of this, particularly at a practice reception, can be very damaging.

The role of the practice receptionist

The aspects of the receptionist role are varied, the main duties include:

  • Welcoming patients.

  • Booking in patients.

  • Ensuring patients are booked into appropriate slots and referred to a GP when essential
  • Recording and allocating home visits.
  • Making sure computerised appointment system is updated.
  • Answering visitor and patient requests.
  • Issuing repeat prescriptions.
  • Checking fridge temperature
  • Scanning documents.
  • Working in line with practice policy procedures.

Alongside these practical duties, day-to-day responsibilities can be far more complex and wide-reaching. Receptionists are often seen as the gatekeeper of the practice. They make judgments that establish the level of contact and access to clinicians, frequently after just a short conversation.

This intermediary role needs to be undertaken with professionalism, care and within set guidelines. Receptionists have to be very cautious to ensure they never make clinical decisions. However they need to softly triage some requests, perhaps asking a patient to come into the surgery where appropriate instead of having a home visit. These factors mean that the receptionist has to be multi- skilled, calm and unruffled.

What is a perfect receptionist?

A flawless receptionist can make the difference between a contented practice and a chaotic practice.

They will have a calm exterior and interior, a warm personality and a capable IT background. Kindness towards patients and colleagues is the key characteristic, and other essential traits needed to work with people will generally follow. By demonstrating legitimate concern about patients, being welcoming and open, the receptionist will be on course to presenting outstanding customer service.

As a patient, receiving poor quality service from the outset can be extremely upsetting and also a cause for distress and bad feeling. If a receptionist is seen to be disinterested or uncaring, patients can be left feeling disgruntled and irritated.

A receptionist who makes the practice a better place shows their open personality and is able to modify their conduct to the patient they are speaking to. Patients come in all sizes, therefore it’s key to be able to connect in conversation with a multitude of people. Being able to understand individuals and situations while giving consideration to the needs of patients gains their trust and provides a positive experience.

The approach to tricky situations
is important. They must know not to take negative comments to heart, and to understand that a patient’s poor frame of mind may be out of their power. Generally a negative situation can be turned positive by presenting gentleness and an enthusiasm to help.

However, it is also important for a good receptionist to know when behaviour is unacceptable and when to take further action.

A perfect receptionist has the opportunity to make a patient smile;

  • they are the first person who greets and the last person saying goodbye
  • Contribute keenly
  • Trust the opinions of their colleagues
  • Make decisions with the whole group
  • Communicate honestly
  • Take responsibility for a problem rather than accuse someone else
  • Be constructive and encouraging, connecting with the whole team.

Receptionists who contribute efficiently and positively will ensure that the practice will perform well because the team will be operating with a common goal. They will share their diverse abilities within the team, creating an effective and contented workforce. The supportive environment and shared knowledge create a sense of loyalty.

How to attract a perfect receptionist

Recruiting is a two-way process. It starts before the new employee is needed, to make the practice attractive to strong candidates. A robust encouraging ethos suggests that the practice is a happy place to work. Candidates want to feel they are in an organisation with colleagues that are valued and appreciated.

Also, the practice must be fully staffed and financially supported so that any prospective employee feels confident.

Ways to recruit the perfect receptionist 

Finding your right recruit means advertising on the right websites. Don’t just stick to the usual online recruiters. Pop a card in the supermarket and the local shop. Try word of mouth. Look through CVs that have been dropped in on spec. The right person could be hiding anywhere.
 Spend time writing the advert for your vacancy. Word it so that it conveys the ethos of the practice. If you are looking for a person who is fun and confident, write the advert in that vein. If you are searching for someone more serious and professional put that across in the wording.
l Stipulate the skills you are looking for. Be specific. If qualifications are less important than personality, say so. If you want specific experience and education be clear – don’t waste their time or yours.

Have a fair process in place. Shortlist candidates in a similar manner to ensure equality. Generally the shortlist should not be more than five applicants. Prepare for the interviews. Make sure a room is available; ensure candidates know where they can park and whether they need to prepare anything formal. Have water available. Warn staff that interviewees will arrive so they give a warm welcome. Icebreaker. Before heading into the formality of interviewing, consider an icebreaker to build a bond and set the applicant at ease. Ask a general question such as – did you find us okay?Create a collection of interview questions based on the position. Good questions could include:

  • A patient demands a repeat prescription, starting to shout that he wants it right now. You are working on your own in reception and the surgery is busy, what do you do?
  • Tell me about a demanding setting that you have experienced previously.
  • How do you prioritise your work?
  • How do you deal with confidential information?
  • Describe yourself in a few words.

What’s the most important aspect of being a receptionist?

Ensure the interviewing panel has sight of all candidates’ CVs, interview questions and application forms beforehand.
l While the candidate is talking, write some notes but don’t have your head face down away from them. Your notes will help you reflect at the end of the day but shouldn’t distract from the process.
l Pick an item mentioned on their application form and ask them a question about it at the end. Look for something attention-grabbing and unique to them.

Making a wish-list in this way should enable you to pick a candidate with the necessary qualities – humour, calmness, a friendly disposition and a robust personality.

Finally the interviewer should steer away from boundaries and conformity. Interview questions can collect familiarity and understanding however a gut-feeling for a warm friendly disposition may possibly attract a receptionist more likely to fulfill than fail.

One of the most important points to remember is that managers need to stay involved with the recruitment process and not delegate this entirely to someone else. The ethos and culture of the practice comes from leadership so why let anyone else make your recruitment decisions? 

Dwysan Rowena is a practice manager