Reception area that supports people with low health literacy

Communication and Health Literacy

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Main point

The staff in your reception area are usually the first people consumers meet in your organisation, and play a vital role in making them feel comfortable and confident about what to do. First impressions are important. Expect your reception staff to be kind, welcoming and helpful.

People often feel nervous and intimidated in hospitals and health centres. A friendly and informative reception area can help consumers feel comfortable and confident as partners in managing their health and healthcare.

There are many steps you can take.

Service brochure

Provide information about your service.  This may include a plain language brochure from a consumers’ point of view. Remember those who have low literacy levels. Consider providing other versions of the information, such as video and audio, Easy English and simple pictorial summaries.  Information you might want to include:

  • what services you provided
  • contact details, including after-hours and emergency numbers
  • what people need to bring to appointments
  • information about consumer rights and responsibilities

Staff and volunteers

  • Remind staff that their body language and tone communicate a welcome.
  • Ensure everyone is wearing clear tags saying who they are and their position/role.  Consider adopting #Hello, my name is.
  • Consider wearing ‘Ask Me’ badges to show that your questions are welcome.
  • Ensure all reception staff are trained in your organisation’s reception policies and procedures. Include in your reception policy or procedures the expectation that staff:
  • offer all consumers help filling in forms and completing other paperwork
  • offer all consumers directions to service areas as required
  • use language services appropriately
  • offer to help consumers make appointments when referrals are provided
  • provide appointment cards for follow-up appointments, detailing where and when the appointment will be, who they will see, any necessary preparation, what to bring and what to do if they need to change the appointment.

The physical environment

  • Have a sign welcoming people at your front door or entrance.
  • Have a sign at reception or the front desk to let people know they have arrived and what to do next.
  • In the waiting area:
    • have an uncluttered bulletin board with easy-to-read health and wellbeing information relevant to your consumer group. Assign somebody to update the board regularly
    • use technology to show health information and information about your service, for example, via a closed circuit television
    • display local artwork or photos
    • consider playing quiet background music.

Leaving people waiting

Waiting for long periods without updates is often annoying and sometimes worrying. Delays cannot be helped but try to make the wait easier by letting the person know what is happening and that they have not been forgotten.

Check the person is ok and address any needs they have. Check who they are waiting to see and how long the delay is might be.  Then the person can make any necessary arrangements or perhaps go for a walk to fill in time.

January 2019