Workplace violence Research/studies Health care/social assistance Health Care Workers

Medical receptionists face increased aggression from patients, researchers say


Photo: Dean Mitchell/iStockphoto

Queensland, Australia — Patient aggression toward receptionists in general medical practices has become a “serious workplace safety concern,” a recent research review concludes.

Researchers at the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology looked at 20 studies published from 1970 through 2022 and from five different countries. The studies featured more than 4,100 participants, 21.5% of whom were recent or current general practice receptionists.

All of the studies reported that aggressive actions by patients were “frequent and routine.” Receptionists commonly experienced verbal abuse such as swearing; shouting; accusations of malicious behavior; and the use of racist, ablest and sexist insults.

Although cases of physical violence were less frequent than verbal abuse, some acts were serious threats to the receptions’ safety and well-being. They included being hit, shaken, held at gunpoint, stalked and threatened with a razor blade. These events caused a range of negative emotions that led to burnout and fatigue.

The most common issues that led to patient aggressions were inefficient appointment scheduling systems, delayed access to doctors and prescription denials.

The researchers say training on patient aggression management increased the receptionists’ confidence and allowed them to feel better equipped to handle volatile situations. In many cases, the receptionists said they tried to placate patients to keep a situation from escalating, despite this damaging their own well-being and productivity.

“Evidence-based strategies to prevent, manage and mitigate the harms of patient aggression toward general practice reception staff are urgently needed,” the researchers write.

The study was published online in the open access journal Family Medicine and Community Health.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)