Background: Continuity of care is widely regarded as an important feature of general practice, but the role of receptionists in influencing continuity has been the subject of little research.
Objective: To explore how receptionists might influence access and continuity of care in general practice.
Methods: A questionnaire survey of receptionists in practices in Leeds, UK, was conducted. All 119 practices in Leeds were contacted to recruit receptionists via practice managers. A total of 148 receptionists responded from 50 practices.
Results: The majority of receptionists (140, 94%) perceived continuity as team continuity. Most (139, 93%) felt it was important for the patient to be seen on the same day by any doctor, rather than the usual doctor. They were less willing to ask patients for more details of a routine problem than an urgent one. The majority (113, 76%) thought that non-attendance was more related to patient issues than to their own behaviour. Organizational factors affected how receptionists offered appointments. Advanced access could impede longitudinal continuity and, indirectly, relational continuity. Having a policy to deal with urgent appointments or routine appointments could facilitate such continuity.
Conclusion: The majority of receptionists perceived continuity as a team response rather than longitudinal. However, if relational continuity is to survive in UK and European general practice, educational and training measures would need to be taken to promote these values to receptionists.