GP practices with unhelpful receptionists have lower patient satisfaction rates, according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.
In Calling the GP surgery: patient burden, patient satisfaction, and implications for training, researchers listened to recorded conversations between patients and receptionists and cross-referenced their findings with the results from the GP Patient Survey.
The researchers found that where the “burden” fell on the patient to push for more information, patient satisfaction decreased.
The report says: “Less effective receptionists failed to offer alternative courses of action when they could not meet patients’ first requests, leaving the burden on patients to drive the call forward.
“They also closed calls prematurely, before confirming the details of next actions (for example, the time and date of appointments).”
It adds that where “patient burden” was higher patient satisfaction scores, published in the GP Patient Survey, were lower.
Before this study, the report says “it was known that surgeries offering basically the same service differed in their satisfaction ratings” by it was not clear why.
The study concludes that this research has implications for receptionist training, including offering “appointment details or next actions at the end of calls” and offering “alternative courses of action if patients’ initial request cannot be met”.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said: "It is not an easy job, and all too often receptionists bear the brunt of criticism if a patient is not satisfied with the care they receive. Yet, in the majority of cases dissatisfaction may be as a result of circumstances out of receptionists' control; a lack of GP appointments due to the intense resource and workforce pressures currently facing general practice.
"It's important to remember that whilst receptionists play a pivotal role in delivering patient care, they are not healthcare professionals, and should not be put in a position where they have to make decisions about our patients' health.
“One of the key pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View is the delivery of nationwide training for the whole practice team, including receptionists and clerical staff. This would have important ramifications for the role of the GP receptionist and the overall patient experience and the College will be following developments closely."