Serious concerns over patient aggression to GP receptionists

Source: Practice Index

Patient aggression towards receptionists in GP surgeries is a “serious workplace safety concern,” researchers warn today.

A review, published in Family Medicine and Community Health, warns that such behaviour affects the wellbeing of the individuals concerned, increases levels of workplace absenteeism and has an impact on staff retention. Although there have been studies into behaviour towards general practice staff, few have included the perspectives of the receptionists, the researchers say.

In this study, the researchers, led by Dr Fiona Willer, from the University of Queensland, Australia, trawled research databases for studies published in English that addressed receptionists’ experiences of patient aggression in primary care. They reviewed 20 relevant studies, published between 1970 and 2022, 11 of which were from the UK, four from Australia, two from Spain, two from the USA, and one from Ireland.

Out of the 20, 18 peer reviewed journal articles, with one doctoral thesis and one research institute report. A range of study designs were used and 12 were considered to be high quality. The studies included 4,107 participants, of whom 21.5% (882) were current or recent general practice receptionists.

Every study reported frequent and routine patient aggression towards receptionists, with verbal abuse, hostility, and use of racist, ableist, and sexist insults. Nine studies reported physical violence towards receptionists, although these occurred much less frequently than verbal abuse.

Receptionists most often attributed the triggers for patients’ aggression and hostility to frustrations with appointment scheduling and admin systems; errors; delayed access to doctors; and prescription refusal. They said patient aggression was the most difficult part of their role, but they reported feeling better able to manage it if they had been given relevant training, had confidence in their de-escalation skills, and if they could refer to formal policy and rely on back-up from management and clinical colleagues. However, there was little coordinated support for general practice reception staff on the receiving end of patient aggression.

Although the study included research conducted over 40 years, the researchers write: “Our study has highlighted that the experiences and wellbeing of general practice receptionists are under-studied in general, and even in research about general practice reception, receptionists are under-represented as participants.”

They add: “Patient aggression towards reception staff is a serious workplace safety concern for general practices and negatively affects healthcare sector function more broadly. Evidence-based strategies to prevent, manage, and mitigate the harms of patient aggression towards general practice reception staff are urgently needed.”

Click here for the source.