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Receptionists' 'dragon' reputation is unfair, study finds

GP receptionists’ reputation as grumpy and unhelpful is unfair because they have such a difficult job in prioritising patients with minimal time, information and training, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Manchester and University of Liverpool found that receptionists typically feel a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable patients, but find this challenging because of a shortage of appointment slots and some patients ‘trying to play the system’.

The study, Slaying the dragon myth: an ethnographic study of receptionists in UK general practice, published in the British Journal of General Practice, analysed more than 200 hours of interactions between 45 GP receptionists and patients, and conducted interviews with receptionists.

It concluded: ‘The historical perception of the receptionist as a “dragon behind the desk” has been getting in the way of understanding the role of receptionists and thus improving patient care; to slay it entirely will require a concerted approach to understanding and supporting receptionists so that they can better facilitate patient access to health professionals and other sources of help.’

Lead researcher Jonathan Hammond, a research assistant at the University of Manchester, said: ‘It might be the case that what are portrayed as individual failings on the part of receptionists are actually due to systemic problems within GP practices.’


Readers' comments (12)

  • Sorry, but sitting behind a receptionists desk for years is training enough. Some really are that grumpy.

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  • As a Practice Manager I agree a few appear grumpy whatever happens, but even that is not necessarily how they really are. I know of one receptionist who helped patients by finding out lots of information if they asked BUT her 1st comment tended to be " I've no idea" when asled a question and that's what people remembered even after she had chased appointments, traced missing prescriptions, etc. Unfortunately first impressions are what people recall later, even if the outcome was good.

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  • As a partner, I feel it's unfair for the receptionists to be demonised in this manner. They are often reciprocating what I ask them to do, not because they want to be unpleasant. There are ways of conveying messages and do this extremely well, some badly. There are some who just hasn't got the skill to do this - but what do you expect, it's a low paid, low skilled (as in no formal training, I don't mean they don't possess skill) job and they get a lot of unjust stick for what they get paid for.

    Funny enough my receptionists think I'm grumpy dragon behind the desk too.......

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  • isn't it all about the training? And therefore the responsibility of the Manager or Team Lead to ensure that it is relevant and timely and is backed up by effective performance review

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  • Of course they're grumpy!
    DH, the press and media are always banging on about how bad the service is and in the same breath say 'if you're worried see the GP.' Receptionists are the flood gates to stop unlimited demand on limited resource. Giving people what they want cheers us all up, providing them with what they need is something entirely different.

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  • I'm lucky, I've got a great team of receptionists who are really sympathetic and supportive - and all of them have the odd bad day, and all get abused by unpleasant patients from time to time, and all get unfair criticism from demanding managers and doctors from time to time as well.
    I agree a lot of this can be mitigated by training, as well as clear leadership and support, good appraisal and, in my view above all else, mutual respect.
    I'm really seriously grumpy at times this morning!

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  • Harry Longman

    The key thing patients want from receptionists is access to their GP. And that is determined not by them, but by supply and demand. They have no control over the key determinant of patient satisfaction with them. If they don't have enough appointments, that's a rotten job. Training does not generate appointments, and a smiley face does not deceive patients.

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  • I agree that many receptionists do a great job with patients and their relatives who are sometimes extremely unreasonable. However, I will not forgive the receptionist who would not tell me where my 17 year old daughter was, when she had been put into a room to wait for me to return, in order to take her to hospital with suspected appendicitis. I had to go home to phone her on her mobile for find this out, after an hour's wait.

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  • My receptionists are friendly approachable and efficient. They know their patients they know their doctors working times and can explain the problems with appointments and availability. They are not always smiling but are never rude. Reality is they that Have no magic wands to put more hours in the day. Mutual respect from all who work or use the practice goes a long way the receptionist is a gate keeper to an incredible service.

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  • As much as we would like to, you will never please everybody !!

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