Why receptionists are integral to the health care team

Health care is a team sport, and one of the most important members is the office receptionist.

Receptionists are often the first people patients see when the visit the clinic.  And those first impressions count.

In a recent piece from the New York Times, Pauline Chen notes a study of the responsibilities of the medical receptionist, and finds they impact patient care more than one would think:

Their emotionally challenging work ranged from confirming a prescription with an angry patient, to congratulating a new mother, to consoling a man whose wife had just died, to helping a mentally ill patient make an appointment.

The demands changed from minute to minute and were often unpredictable. But one thing was certain: A significant portion of their work involved managing the emotions and care of patients and families.

Patients may have an excellent relationship with their doctors, but if the front office staff is difficult to deal with, that is one reason why they may change practices.

But with hospitals and medical offices cutting staff, responsibilities beyond administrative work are placed on receptionists.  The cited study from the Times essay advised that their scope of training expand as well, which includes handling the emotional aspects of their work:

In a lot of people’s minds, the receptionist is barring access to primary care … But the receptionists see themselves in the very difficult position of having to deal with all the emotions of the patients while remaining responsible for the practice and protecting their practitioners.

As patient care transitions to team-based models, every member is crucial.  That includes doctors, nurses, physician assistants, medical assistants, and just as important, receptionists.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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