Patients avoid GPs for fear of being grilled by receptionists
GPs’ receptionists are deterring patients from going to the doctor, with almost half of patients put off by worries they will be grilled about their symptoms, a study has found.
The Royal College of GPs last night reminded receptionists they should not be taking decisions about patients' health, while cancer experts called for more training to ensure such staff were acting with sensitivity.
Research on 2,000 patients found that having to discuss potentially embarrassing problems with those without medical training was one of the chief obstacles stopping them from making an appointment.
In total, 40 per cent of those surveyed said a dislike of discussing their symptoms with the receptionist could deter them from seeing their GP – with women slightly more likely to say this than men.
"'It is always made clear that are under no obligation to disclose information they are not comfortable with'"Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association
It is common practice for receptionists to ask about symptoms when people try to book an appointment.
Some ask explicitly, while others will ask patients if they believe their case is urgent, leaving many feeling forced to describe details of their health complaints.
"'We may need more emphasis on training front desk staff including receptionists to deal more sensitively with patients'"Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK
Experts argue this helps identify the most urgent cases and puts people in touch with the right service.
But critics say receptionists - who are often not medically trained - should not be allowed to triage patients.
The research, published in the Journal Of Public Health, found 37 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women said the thought of having to talk to a GP receptionist about their symptoms could put them off seeing a doctor.
Other common barriers included finding it difficult to get an appointment with a particular doctor (42 per cent), or to get an appointment at a convenient time (42 per cent).
A third of people (35 per cent) were put off visiting their GP because they did not want to be seen as someone who makes a fuss, the research by Cancer Research UK found.
A 2015 study, where researchers posed as patients with stroke symptoms, found around one third of cases were not recognised as emergencies by receptionists taking the calls.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said receptionists should always make it clear to patients that they did not have to disclose any information they did not want to share.
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK's GP expert, said: "Diagnosing cancer early is something we have to take seriously, so anything that might prevent people from getting their symptoms checked needs to be overcome.
"We need to ensure that patients are able to get appointments at a convenient time, can book an appointment to see a particular doctor and aren't put off coming to see them in the first place. This may mean more emphasis on training front desk staff including receptionists to deal more sensitively with patients,” he said.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee deputy chairman, said: “All receptionists receive training to help ensure that when a patient calls they are given the most effective advice about what appointment they may need, but it is always made clear that are under no obligation to disclose information they are not comfortable with.”
He said receptionists were struggling with staff shortages and rising demand, calling for extra funds promised for primary care to be spent swiftly.”
Dr Maureen Baker, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “While GP receptionists are valued members of the practice team and play a pivotal role in delivering patient care, we understand that our patients would prefer to speak to their family doctor about their health, especially if it is sensitive in nature.
“With GPs making more patient consultations than ever before - 60m more a year compared to five years ago – GP receptionists ensure the smooth running of the practice and do their best to help patients see a particular GP at a suitable time for them.
“However, it is important to remember that they are not healthcare professionals, and are not in a position to make decisions about our patients' health."
She said health officials had pledged to roll out nationwide training for all staff working in GP practices, including receptionists.