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Managing reception

BDJ Team volume 3, Article number: 16099 (2016) | Download Citation

In the final extract of three from the second edition of his book, Michael R. Young explains how to manage your dental reception.

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Managing reception

Creating the right ambience in your reception area/waiting room is important. It is possibly the first contact people have with a practice and their experience will set the tone, and will be presumed by them to reflect the attitude of the whole practice.

A good receptionist must always be smartly dressed and must balance speed and efficiency with professional charm and sympathy. They should always be prepared to listen to talkative patients (people often talk more when they are nervous) but at the same time be able to continue with their work without seeming rude.

Your receptionist is a crucial element in the patient management process: you plan the treatment, decide what is to be done, how long is needed to carry out the treatment, and specify any intervals between appointments; the receptionist then takes over responsibility for patient management.

After the treatment has been completed the receptionist plays an important part in the review phase of the management cycle for any particular patient, particularly if problems had occurred. Perhaps laboratory work was not back in time because the receptionist had not allowed enough time between appointments (because the patient notes were not clear!). Or maybe you had not asked for enough time for an appointment (or the receptionist had to guess because the notes weren't specific enough!) and so your surgery ran late that day. This had a knock on effect for the hygienist's appointments; many patients were kept waiting and some of them voiced their dissatisfaction to the receptionist.

To be an effective part of the patient management process your receptionist must be fully conversant with practice policies, for example:

  • How you expect your patients to be addressed, either face-to-face or on the telephone

  • How to handle patients requesting an emergency appointment

  • When and how appointments are to be cancelled

  • How to deal with patients who turn up late for their appointment

  • What to do if you are running late

  • What to do about failed appointments

  • How to deal with patients who turn up without an appointment

  • How to register new patients

  • Collecting payments from patients.

One other thing for which you should have an ‘informal’ policy is the circumstances under which you can be interrupted by a telephone call. This might be a simple ‘Never!’ or ‘Only if such-and-such calls’. Your receptionist should know the rules and stick to them.

If you have decided that all patients are to be addressed by their title by the receptionist and nurse, and are only to be addressed by their first name by you and the hygienist, for example, then that is what should happen, every time. I have worked with young nurses who think it acceptable to address older people by their first name even though they hardly know each other. This may seem an old fashioned attitude, but in a professional organisation respect is important.

Being able to deal with patients who are demanding to be seen even though they are late requires tact. The receptionist has to be able to quickly assess the situation (has the patient travelled far? Was the patient unavoidably held up in traffic? Are they normally good time keepers? These are questions the receptionist needs to ask themselves). Set the rules, but give the receptionist permission to break the rules if necessary.

I remember one day when a patient who lived on the other side of the Pennines failed to arrive for their appointment. It was not like them not to turn up. The waiting room was full when the patient turned up about 30 minutes late, full of apologies. An accident on the M62 had been the reason. I had a very good relationship with this patient and did not want to inconvenience them anymore than they had unavoidably inconvenienced me this particular day. My receptionist had reviewed the remainder of the appointment book for that session, weighed up how we could still see the patient and still finish on time. With a bit of juggling, time management and co-operation from other patients, we saw the latecomer, carried out their treatment as planned, saw everyone else, and finished on time. Everyone was happy, including the patient whose 100-mile round trip had not been in vain.

An excellent receptionist also needs to be:

  • Extremely well organised

  • Approachable and accommodating

  • 100% focused on delivering excellent patient care

  • Confident, but not overconfident

  • An excellent communicator

  • Prepared to make decisions based on a sound knowledge and understanding of your practice policies and procedures.

Once your receptionist has proved capable of managing reception and has earned your trust, give them total responsibility for its performance. Employees value being given responsibility and will rise to the challenge. They must, however, understand that they also have to take full responsibility for any mistakes.

The layout and organisation of your reception desk is not something that can be prescribed in a book like this; it is something that will evolve as your receptionist discovers what works best for them and for the smooth running of the practice. However, you should give the receptionist everything they need to carry out their role. Equipment must work or be repaired or replaced as soon as possible. Stocks of essential items such as notebooks, pens and pencils must be maintained. The receptionist must know how everything they are going to use every day works, for example, the telephone system and the computer.

Enrol your receptionist in a dental nurses' course at the local college, that way they can help out in the surgery if ever the need arises. They must also be willing to occasionally swap with the nurse to increase their understanding and appreciation of what goes on in there. Your receptionist should be the epitome of efficiency, but they also need to be a people person.

Hold this thought: empathy, sympathy and understanding are key qualities in a receptionist

A receptionist is also an intelligence gatherer. Patients will pass the time chatting with the receptionist, revealing information and valuable insights about themselves, their families, their likes and dislikes, all of which could prove useful when it comes to caring for and treating them, and for working out why they like coming to the practice. Some receptionists are very good at this. I came across one who used to read the hatched, matched and dispatched columns in the local paper so that the practice could wish patients every happiness on their marriage, the arrival of a new baby, and to make sure that recall appointments were not sent to deceased patients.

The reception area can often end up as a meeting place for nurses when they have nothing else to do but stand around and chat. I didn't mind my staff doing this, however, I made it quite clear to them that when a patient approached or the phone rang, all talking stopped and the patient became the centre of everyone's attention. It's infuriating when you approach a desk, counter or whatever in any business and the staff, instead of welcoming you and asking how they can help, carry on talking about their night out or what they'll be doing at the weekend.

Taken from Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way, Second Edition by Michael R. Young

Published by CRC Press, March 2016

£31.99 ISBN 9781910227664

Order the book online: www.crcpress.com/9781910227664

Enter code ABQ06 at checkout for a 20% discount

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  1. Michael R. Young is a former clinician, practice owner, and independent clinical negligence expert witness. His practice was one for the first in the UK to be awarded the British Dental Association Good Practice. He is now an author.

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