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GP receptionists 'need training to recognise stroke symptoms'

Nearly a third of receptionists at GP surgeries failed to direct patients with symptoms of stroke for immediate help from a GP or to emergency services, a simulation study at 52 general practices has revealed.

The research, from Oxford University, has prompted calls for receptionists to be properly trained in recognising the symptoms of stroke, after finding only 14%of the receptionists in the study had received formal training.

Each practice in the study received 10 calls from trained ‘medical role’ actors mimicking between one and three symptoms of acute stroke.

Overall, 69% of the calls were transferred immediately - 88% of the time to emergency services.

Receptionists performed well when patients presented with three ‘FAST’ - Face Arm Speech Time - symptoms. However, they were less likely to refer people immediately if they had fewer FAST symptoms, or with symptoms related to posterior circulation stroke such as vomiting, visual disturbance or vertigo.

Lead researcher Dr James Sheppard, a Medical Research Council fellow at Oxford University’s Primary Care Health Sciences department, said: ‘Patients suffering from stroke require urgent care in hospital. A delay of just a few hours, caused by calling the GP surgery instead of 999, could have a significant impact on patient outcomes.

‘Unlike call handlers answering 999 calls, few GP receptionists are trained to recognise the symptoms of stroke and triage patients appropriately. We were therefore surprised that such a high number of simulated calls were correctly referred for immediate care. That said, simulated calls containing lesser known symptoms of stroke were often dealt with incorrectly, suggesting that some formal training of receptionists would be valuable.’

Br J Gen Pr 2015; available online 29 June

Readers' comments (6)

  • I think this shows how fantastic receptionists are!
    69% accuracy is amazing with no formal medical training. The entire system would collapse if every patient with vomiting or vertigo were sent to AE.
    And that is before we even discuss whether it is appropriate for reception staff to be giving this advice at all!

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  • 'I think this shows how fantastic receptionists are!'
    its a trial with many limitations and sadly this is not the way things are going now.Many staff are just saying see the Dr. or Dr. will do a visit. anything to make one's job easier at the expense of the Dr.

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  • Before they come out with their laughable aphorisms, they should descend from their cloud-cuckoo-land and spend a day with our receptionists and see what REAL work is like.
    The thought that as a taxpayer I contribute towards their wages is enough to give me a stroke. I must see one my ladies at the reception fast.

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  • 'Researcher' can be a -'re-searcher' somebody trying to prove that he/she is justified in spending the precious funds that he/she has access to.
    If only the receptionists in Oxford were able to identify xxxxx we wouldn't have a pseudo-genius blaming our receptionists of failing to do their job.
    My receptionists do not have it in their job description to identify strokes and they should be expected to have as much of medical knowledge as any lay person. It is important to remember that we do not have medical indemnity for receptionists and thrusting responsibilities upon them and taking the wrap for our reception staff 'failing to direct patients...' is absolute nonsense.

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  • oops...taking the rap...not wrap:)

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  • Is this a new NICE Guideline

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