Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Receptionists and touchscreen check-in at GP surgeries

Here, people talk about:

•    the role of the receptionist
•    positive experiences of receptionists
•    bad experiences
•    confidentiality and privacy
•    touchscreen check-in
•    young people’s messages to receptionists

The role of the receptionist
Receptionists are an important link with the practice (surgery or health centre) and are the first people to contact for general enquiries. They can give basic information on services, and direct patients to the right person depending on the health problem or query. Receptionists may:

•    book appointments for patients in person or over the phone
•    enter patients’ details onto computer systems 
•    direct patients where to go within the surgery
•    answer queries from patients and other staff
•    deal with prescription enquiries and print repeat prescriptions 
•    manage patient records 

Positive experiences of receptionists
Auberon recalled that all the receptionists at his local surgery were friendly and knew him by name. Jake said that the receptionists at his health centre ‘have always been nice’, as had the GPs.
Shane said the receptionists at his local practice were friendly and he ‘nearly ended up getting a pet cat from them because one of the receptionists had kittens.’ Tagbo praised the receptionists at the surgery he went to for being good and reassuring.
Emma and Jalé felt that some receptionists were better and friendlier than others, and Lucy that some were friendly and approachable but others ‘are just arsey about [repeat prescriptions]. Like some are really lovely and they’ll sort it out straight away. But others are just like, “Oh, you should have put in your repeat prescription.”’
Ish, who works in a customer service role, said: ‘I can’t really say anything bad about them because they are like customer service on some level. And just based on my own work, I know that you tend to get a little frustrated after a while. But you shouldn’t be really showing it.’ He felt that receptionists have a hard job trying to please everyone, especially if patients are rude.
Bad experiences
Some of the people we talked to recalled negative experiences with some receptionists. Louis, for example, felt that some were ‘condescending’, and Simon that some were abrupt when they should have been more sensitive and approachable:
Ambeya felt that receptionists at her local surgery ‘don’t follow their job description’ – they were often rude instead of polite. Peter, like a few people we spoke to, felt that some receptionists gave the impression that they didn’t enjoy their job, maybe because they were busy and under-staffed.
Vinay recalled that some receptionists were okay but others came across as ‘very, very cold’, and he felt that they must work under a huge amount of pressure. Several people agreed it must sometimes be a difficult and frustrating job.
Confidentiality and privacy
Receptionists are never told of a patient’s confidential consultations (appointments), but they do have access to people’s records so that they can type letters and carry out other admin duties. They’re not allowed to look at patients’ notes for any other purpose, and nor are they allowed to discuss any information about patients outside work. Sometimes receptionists might ask a patient about the reason for their visit so they can direct them to the best person, whether that’s a GP, nurse, or another member of the team. Emma felt uncomfortable when receptionists at the surgery asked her why she needed to see the GP, though found it less awkward when she was making an appointment over the phone. Ambeya felt that there was ‘no confidentiality’ when she phoned for an appointment and receptionists asked why she wanted it. Louis suggested that if a receptionist knows the patient personally, they should ask a different receptionist to deal with them to ensure confidentiality.
Jalé felt that a few receptionists gave her ‘a grilling’ before booking her an appointment. Occasionally she told the receptionist that the reason for her visit was private when she didn’t want to give this information out loud in a busy surgery. Aphra, on the other hand, found that, although she lived in a small village where many people knew each other, the receptionists always ensured patients’ privacy.
Sarah also lived in a small village for a while and felt there was a lack of privacy when checking in with a receptionist. The reception desk and waiting area were in one room so other people could often overhear conversations with receptionists. She would prefer to be able to point to a general health issue on a form (e.g. mental health, contraception, asthma) than say out aloud why she wants to see the GP. She also felt that the waiting room and reception desk should be separate to allow patients privacy:
Touchscreen check-in 
In many GP surgeries, people can check in by putting in their details on a touchscreen. Some people we talked to checked in digitally. Paula found it convenient because the receptionists were often busy and had a long queue of people waiting to see them. She also liked that it was private.
Lucy felt that, although the receptionists she’d spoken to were ‘nice’, she was ‘just quite awkward with people in general’ and disliked small-talk. One of the benefits of touchscreen check-in was ‘less human interaction’, and Simon said it was often quicker and better if he was a bit ‘groggy’ in the morning. Some people who were concerned about privacy and confidentiality preferred checking in digitally because they didn’t like being asked questions by receptionists. For Louis, the touchscreen was a good option for people ‘if maybe they don’t want to speak to the receptionists, a person, they might feel like they’re judging them’.
Ambeya, who ‘hated’ talking to receptionists, preferred the touchscreen check-in and said that the screen in her area allowed people to check-in in several different languages:
Isaac, who hated machines, found the touchscreen annoying but understood why he had to use it. Everyone at his local surgery had to check-in digitally unless they couldn’t for health reasons.
Young people’s messages to receptionists
The people we talked to offered different kinds of advice based on their experiences, while recognising that being a receptionist was not an easy job. Here are some of their suggestions:

•    it’s important to be welcoming 

Some of the receptionists at Aphra’s surgery remembered her name and ‘those little touches that actually make you feel like you're a human being and not just another one of the masses’.

•    little things make a difference like being friendly and helpful
•    being polite and understanding is important
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•    it’s important to be compassionate ‘to everyone, because you’ve no idea what someone’s going through. Everyone’s going through something.’ (Sarah)
•    be patient with people who are nervous or stutter 
•    a sympathetic approach could help patients feel a bit better (Vinay)
•    people don’t go to the GP because they want to: ‘A smile can mean a thousand words really. It can make someone feel so much better just by the way they look at them. So it’s just really to think how you would look on the other side of the window really, if you was going to the appointment. Just to welcome patients and make them feel comfortable.’ (Simon)

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