Receptionists 'Put People Off Visiting GP' By Asking To Discuss Symptoms

40% of people dislike discussing symptoms with receptionists

Two in five people would be put off going to the doctors if they had to discuss their symptoms with the practice receptionist, according to new research.

When people phone their GP to book an appointment, receptionists will often ask about their symptoms to help identify the most urgent cases and put people in touch with the right service.

However new research suggests that this method may be putting people off seeking help altogether.

In response to the finding, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert Dr Richard Roope said front desk staff should be trained to deal more sensitively with patients.

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A new survey of almost 2,000 people found the most common barriers to visiting a GP were:

  • Difficulty getting an appointment with a specific doctor (42%)
  • Difficulty getting an appointment at a convenient time (42%)
  • Disliking discussing symptoms with the receptionist (40%)

People from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to report a number of possible “emotional” barriers like worrying about what the GP might find, having tests and talking about symptoms.

They were also more likely to say they would be put off going to their GP if they couldn’t see a particular doctor.

Across all groups, not wanting to be seen as someone who makes a fuss was a commonly perceived barrier to seeking help (35%).

The analysis was taken from the Cancer Awareness Measure - a survey of almost 2,000 people designed to reliably assess awareness of cancer - and published in the Journal of Public Health.

Dr Roope 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.

“And it’s vital that the recent investment from government is used to attract talented people into the medical profession, which will boost the GP shortage.

“We need more doctors to cope with the growing number of people walking through their doors.”

Dr Jodie Moffat, lead author and head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “There’s still more to learn about the things that may put people off going to their doctor, and how important they are when it comes to actually influencing behaviour.

“But it’s clear that a new sign or symptom, or something that has stayed or got worse over time, needs to be checked out by a GP. Don’t let anything put you off.

“The chances of surviving cancer are greater when it’s caught at an early stage, before it’s had a chance to spread, and seeking help sooner rather than later could make all the difference.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told PA: “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 added that the British Medical Association had successfully lobbied for more funding to be invested in receptionist training.