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Getting the best from your reception team

Effective management of your reception team can help improve services. Fiona Dalziel provides solutions to some common problems faced by practice managers.

The reception team is a key part of the practice, so it needs to work effectively (Picture: JH Lancy)
The reception team is a key part of the practice, so it needs to work effectively (Picture: JH Lancy)

Reception is the heart of the practice. Receptionists handle a complex job, work under pressure, and don’t do it for the money. Not surprisingly, if things go wrong in reception, repercussions impact the practice and patients. 

Effective management of this team improves services, helps retention of good staff and builds an effective and resilient team. What are some of the most common problems faced by practice managers?

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

Q. I have a member of staff who just does her own thing. She spends time on the tasks she likes best, is a poor team player and is curt with patients.

You need to take action to manage this member of staff and the rest of the team – be fair and consistent. Follow these steps:

  • Ensure your receptionist job description is up to date and make sure everyone has a copy.
  • Clarify who should be doing exactly what in reception and at what time.
  • Review reception supervision arrangements – is someone in charge and available?
  • Put time into ensuring that your reception rota does its job (does it need revision?) and that people stick to it. Discuss this and possible solutions as a team.
  • If each receptionist also has an individual role, for example responsibility for electronic registrations and de-registrations, then make sure they have the time in which to do it.
  • Agree as a team your standards for addressing patients and write this down, with examples.  With a standard set and agreed to, it is much easier to address poor performance.
  • Consider whether this staff member is more suited to a post where s/he works independently and interacts less with patients.

Inter-personal problems in the team

Q. My new receptionist isn’t fitting in. I feel she will be an excellent receptionist, but the other staff keep complaining about her. She has now told me she feels cut out of everything.

A. Your first step here is to find out exactly what is going on. It may have happened before. This will involve informal, private conversations exploring the issues with both your longer-serving staff and the new receptionist. Hopefully, you will find that the solution is a simple one – perhaps induction training was rushed or incomplete. Once you put the solution in place, review how it is working and take the time to speak to everyone again.

If you find that something more serious is happening, you should apply the relevant practice policy and consider taking advice, especially if the result could be a dismissal on the grounds of capability (underperformance) or disciplinary (misconduct such as bullying).

The importance of procedures

Q. I do my best to train staff on office procedures, but after a while something happens and people start doing it ‘their way’.

A.  A procedure does not become set in stone once it has been written down. The interaction of humans with systems means that, even if no need is identified for the system to change, it will be changed anyway through daily use. The original procedure may have been too clumsy or not detailed enough. Steps may have been omitted or included in the wrong order and people will naturally work out their own fixes. This leads to a lack of consistency and risk to patient care.

The task of keeping office procedures up to date is a constant one, and ideally not undertaken as a mammoth annual task. Here are some useful things to consider:

  • When are updates undertaken? Perhaps there is a way of including a review/update of one or two high-risk procedures at each staff meeting so that they are prioritised and the workload is spread throughout the year.
  • Who writes it up and delivers the training? Consider delegating these tasks.  Do not underestimate the motivational impact of this, as long as you provide the staff member with time to actually do the work.  This will also help your team to feel ownership of what they are doing rather than receiving it from on high.
  • Try alternative ways of presenting procedures. Many work well as a flow chart, which may be easier to visualise and remember.

Consistency in approach

Q. One of my receptionists, who is very good at her job, persistently arrives a couple of minutes after her start time and gives a variety of excuses. Her colleagues are getting very frustrated but I don’t want to upset her.

A. As with all kinds of underperformance, hoping it will get better does not work. Additionally, your approach to this problem may need to be different for a longer serving member of staff than for a new one.

You clearly value this receptionist, so when you explore this issue with her, it is important that you start by reassuring her of this fact. Clarify that you want to understand if something is making it difficult for her to arrive on time and confirm that you need to get her timekeeping up to the same standard as the rest of her work. 

Agree a solution and a timescale within which you will review progress. Keep a note of what happened so that, if the problem persists, you know whether you need to move to a more formal approach or perhaps consider temporary changes to her working arrangements.

  • Fiona Dalziel FRCGP(Hon) is a practice management consultant

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