A Receptive Illness

As complaints about Doctors reach highest levels ever, one could say epidemic proportions, the era where the public saw their Doctor or Consultant as God-like is well and truly buried after a fatal overdose of reality. It is with this in mind that my thoughts turn to the impenetrable barriers of jagged rocks which our illnesses often flounder upon, as the winds of determination drive us to seek medical attention, but often it is not the medical attention that is found lacking. Yes those unwavering guards to healthcare, those blasted banshees of the medical bastion; those dreaded dowdy medical receptionists.

My condition unfortunately calls for me to have frequent contact with these meddlesome wannabe medics, who obviously think that the Doctors are theirs, belong to them alone, and how dare anyone get sick enough to need to see one, they can expect to be publicly interrogated, daring to think they need to see ‘their’ Doctors. I do feel my personal views will resonate with so many people, anyone who has needed to see a medic, as they must first get past the outrageous demons of the Outpatient Depts. I have cause to see so many, to be mauled by so many:

1. Hospital visits to various Consultants, all of whom seem to have their own version of a trained dragon guarding the entrances to the consulting rooms, which they feel are made untidy by the very acceptance of patients into them.

2. GP visitations for health monitoring, and this is where the SAS version of medical receptionists play their mercenary trade upon the weakened victims, the patients, as their roar terrifies their prey, those that dare, with trepidation to ask to see a Doctor, the nerve of people, how dare they want to see a Doctor!

3. Finally, in the course of my work for Innovative Minds At Work, makes it essential I see both medical and academic Doctors, thus forcing me into contact with their Receptionists, the sweat of anxiety running down my face as I think about it and recall the numerous times I have had to fight the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. My heart sinks when I am told, “when you arrive, report to the Reception”, it’s like being told to report to the executioner.

I must say I do feel this is some form of punishment to be put before these terrifying predators of the weak and infirm, who are supposed to be advocates of customer services, but in reality they interpret this phrase to mean the patient is wrong and must prove their worth to see the ivory towered medical practitioner.

But what is it with these receptionists that make them so blasted:

  • Rude
  • Dismissive
  • Difficult
  • Uncaring
  • Argumentative
  • Know-it-all
  • Obstructive
  • Condescending
  • Sour faced

I honestly do not get why they do the job, as they don’t seem to like people, they often look so miserable that one needs to ask the question, “why are you a receptionist, why did you go into customer services as a living?!?”, when the living are seemingly such an irritant to you.

I have run many businesses with, as they say, a direct interface (sorry for the Americanism phrase, it slipped out whilst I wasn’t looking) with customers, with people, and Receptionists are usually a key part to the company, they are the first contact the customer has with the company. So what organisation wants the first contact, the quintessential first impression that cannot be repeated, to be a negative one often to the point of embarrassment and rudeness for the customer?

I get completely that this is often an age of faceless contact and communication, as phones buzz the announcement of texts, or the ping of an email needing attention, after all I use Facebook, Twitter (@AbleNotDisabled) and email myself. But does this age of electronic and digital age of communication mean that when we do have to meet face to face in formal settings such as hospitals, that courtesy, compassion, politeness and just good manners are a thing of the past? Does this mean people have become stripped of the ability to talk to a person who is not feeling at their best, or they wouldn’t want to see a Doctor, in a manner that is reassuring, acknowledging the persons vulnerability and weakened state? Does this mean helpfulness is lost, supportiveness abandoned, compassion crushed to death? What happened to plain old smiling and asking, “how can I help you?”

As I think of those articles about nurses needing to be trained to care, maybe my aspirations of good manners from receptionists are too outrageous to expect. I know for a fact confidentiality is lost, just last week I heard on the news about the Care Quality Commission wanting higher standards of confidentiality to be enforced, and just the next day I was in a huge open plan medical waiting area, at the centre of which were the dreaded receptionists. As I approached and queued with many others, I could hear people’s names, addresses, date of births and which department they were waiting for spoken of, and as I approached the desk, the woman ignored me completely deciding it was far better to talk to my wife rather than me in a wheelchair, after all I must be an unable to speak for myself since I was in a chair. So I too was blessed with my personal details being stated by a loud receptionist for everyone in the waiting room to hear, including the condition I had – wonderful.

As a side note I was once in my GP reception/waiting area with a room full of other patients coughing, spluttering, and nattering away, only to have a hand placed on my shoulder to look up at the GP Practice Nurse to ask me how my incontinence was and whether the ‘Pads’ were helping? This was accompanied by silence throughout the noisy waiting room as everyone looked at me, which was only surpassed by my embarrassment.

Although this is, shall we say tiresome, this is not as bad as the tradition but yet still frequent argument with the GP receptionist, which goes something like this:
“I would like to see my Doctor please”
“The soonest appointment is in 3 weeks” (Dragon)
“Is there anything sooner?”
“Why, what’s wrong with you?” (Dragon)
“Well I don’t think it can wait that long”
“Why, is it an emergency? What’s wrong with you?” (Dragon)
“I’d rather not say”
“I’ll put you down for 3 weeks then” (Dragon)

So I have a couple of questions myself:
1. Are GP receptionists trained in triage, such as a highly trained Emergency Department Nurse with many years of experience?
2. Why do they need to know what is wrong with you, isn’t it enough you are asking to see the Doctor?
3. Why do they turn to their colleagues, with a room full of patients in earshot, and gossip about patients and the Doctors they think they own exclusive view rights to?
4. Why do they engage with the Nurses in the GP Practices and talk about patients?

I doubt if any genuine answers will be found, other than to say perhaps such people need removing, or at the very least retraining in the basics skills we were once brought up with, that have clearly been abandoned with their feelings of power over one’s fellow humans, a power that at best is only in their minds, gatekeepers perhaps, genuine power not likely, it’s pitiful really.

Look at the good customer services of the companies that engage well with the user of their services, as they know the value of training positive values and behaviours:

  • Politeness
  • Courtesy
  • Compassion
  • Helpfulness
  • Empathy
  • Confidentiality
  • Sympathy
  • Sincerity

Yep, those good old one to one, human to human skills, drumming into them that they are the first impression anyone gets of the organisation they represent, and that’s a key word ‘represent’, they don’t own the Doctors! The Receptionists must be positive and give a positive view of the Doctors they represent, not make one feel that they are about to be fed to the lions. Receptionists should have understanding that people are unwell, and that caring starts with the very first people they see, you guys, and it’s ok to have a little bit of, and I dread mentioning this, a little bit of smiling.

The Receptionists often make or break the experience, corporate entities know this, NHS needs to implement this, rather than proving the NHS stands for No Happy Smiles. These staff do seem thoroughly trained but in the negative arts, proficient in not showing any emotion. To be perfectly honest in my experience the NHS (No Happy Staff) having very unhappy receptionists is just the first hit to one’s senses, followed by being made to wait for hours, only to be moved to another waiting room to wait again, not a whiff of a Doctor.

If the outward reflection is the NHS putting its best to the patients, God only knows what’s happening within it. I think that training the receptionists may be a start to improving the patient experience, but perhaps the real key is for the receptionists, and the Doctors, understanding clearly they are only there to serve the patient and not the other way round, after all it is 2012!