Receptionists Becoming Punching Bag for Hospital Patients; Behavior Progressively Getting Worse

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a part-time female worker in my 40s. I’m working as a receptionist at a medical institution. Recently, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with patients.

Some people shout angrily at me, saying, “How long are you going to make us wait?” Others press me, saying, “Can’t you see an urgent patient?” when there are lots of people with appointments. There are also those who angrily ask me, “Why are you smiling?” when I respond to them with a smile.

However, many of those people calm down and soften their attitude in front of the doctors when they are examined, as they appear to have vented all their frustration to the receptionists.

Things are different for us compared to receptionists in other industries, as there are those who find our smiling faces unpleasant and others who find matter-of-fact responses to be cold. Therefore, we receptionists are trying to walk a fine line when considering how to appropriately interact with them.

I’ve always tried to be attentive to patients’ feelings by taking their physical condition and emotional state into consideration through their facial expressions and gestures. I have made concerted efforts to rejoice with them in their recovery.

In the past few years, however, I have encountered an increasing number of unreasonable patients with behavior beyond what I can handle, and I feel like I’ve been a punching bag for their frustrations. Please tell me how I can prepare myself for such patients.

— X, Kanagawa Prefecture

Dear Ms. X:

As a medical professional, I can understand how difficult it is to work as a receptionist at a medical institution. There are some people who suffer from mental illnesses due to the unreasonable behavior they have to endure, and as a result they might take a leave of absence or even resign from their job. It’s not uncommon for me to receive consultations from such people.

Receptionists cannot refuse people who come to them. They tend to be in a situation in which they have no choice but to put up with whatever they are told, and those who receive treatment tend to direct their dissatisfaction and anxiety to the easiest targets for expressing their frustrations: the receptionists.

When it comes to actual medical treatment, their attitude may change in front of the doctors, and the doctors may not understand the difficulties that their receptionists are going through.

First, I suggest that you tell the director of your medical institution what kind of verbal abuse you are receiving and ask them to come up with concrete measures.

Recently, I have often seen signs near reception desks that read: “Please stop verbal abuse and violence toward medical personnel. It is important to value communications for good services.”

Some hospitals have boards showing waiting times. Why don’t you suggest such measures to the hospital administrators?

Please have full confidence in the work you are doing.

There must be people who are being saved by your work.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist