While GPs, nurses and other frontline medical staff have been our most obvious frontline Covid-19 heroes, there is a group who must also be recognised – Medical receptionists.
Over eighteen months into the Covid-19 pandemic, we all recognise the magnificent assistance of GPs, hospital medical staff, nurses, pharmacists and a range of other frontline ‘responders’ to our community during pandemic.
To say they have been running on quicksand and yet have somehow kept their necks (and ours) above the surface so that we can get through the worst of the pandemic is an understatement. And yet they have stood up to the challenge admirably, under extreme duress and in an environment where what works one day may not the next.
They have witnessed sights they never thought they would, come out of retirement to try and fill gaps in parts of the health community and helped us navigate the worst of what Covid-19 can bring.
However, there are others who have also gone above and beyond the call – the supporting admin staff across all facets of the sector. Medical receptionists, in particular, should be recognised for their frontline work.
Medical Receptionists are the actual frontline
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have had a meltdown with frontline staff when things haven’t gone the way we thought or hoped, whether it be a waiter in a restaurant, sales assistant in a store or receptionist in some organisation or business.
Medical receptionists are no exception to this, or, rather, are the ones who often confront patients in severe physical or psychological distress over their specific illness or ailment, so are subject to the outpouring of stress and angst from others few of us can possibly imagine.
Throw in a global pandemic and nationwide vaccination rollout where medical receptionists are helping a vast chunk of the population to be seen when they contract Covid-19 or receive a vaccination to prevent it, and it’s no reach to assume they are under even more extreme duress as a result.
Medical Receptionists role change during the pandemic
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon at the time (sadly he passed away not long after), was passionate in his plea to recognise the efforts of general practice staff working during the pandemic.
‘This pandemic has been a very challenging time for general practice and the RACGP recognises that the staff working alongside GPs rarely get the attention or praise they deserve,’ said Dr Nespolon.
‘The focus more often falls on GPs and they are of course doing a great job. However, we don’t sufficiently acknowledge the courage, perseverance and deft touch exhibited by general practice staff across Australia – they are the unheralded heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.’
This kind of praise came from the range of extra tasks medical receptionists were taking on to shoulder the additional burdens GPs were facing.
Even prior to the pandemic, medical receptionists were seen to be already assisting more and more, but once Covid-19 rolled across the nation, they began to do even more.
Some began to perform basic triage over the phone during when telehealth was the predominant form of consultation, and, once clinics shifted back to more in-person consultations, their roles expanded to monitoring body temperature and asking patients questions about travel history and symptoms to assess the risk of Covid-19 infection, in effect assessing “how sick” a patient was and how timely their care needed to be.
And, of course, they have also faced those tricky situations of managing patients unable or unwilling to wear masks or follow Covid-19 safety protocols…and the anger or abuse that sometimes comes with this.
What does this mean for medical receptionists in the future?
While we live in hope that we are at last getting a handle on the pandemic and that life is moving to a post-Covid-19 world, going forward does throw up the question of what does this shift in tasks and responsibilities mean for medical receptionists in the future?
At present, there are only a few courses specifically aimed at training them, although none of these would have prepared them for the additional tasks required during the pandemic. However, so many have learned a new range of skills and had to develop qualities that theoretical learning can never replace.
It can only be hoped that the work medical receptionists have done, like the work of so many other unsung heroes of the pandemic, will see a shift to recognising even more how important they are, leading to better professional outcomes for them.
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