QUESTION: The receptionist in our front office has covered the waiting room window with contact paper. The staff cannot see patients without physically opening the door. She says it is her reception area and she doesn't like people looking at her. Please help me explain to the dentist why this is wrong in every way. He hasn’t said a word to her!
ANSWER FROM DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, RDH, BS, MBA, Watterson Speaking and Consulting:
First, I assume this is an office with considerable age. It's not often I see this design anymore. Today's offices are open (at least partially) between the business area and reception area. Many offices that have the dreaded sliding window have actually removed that window so there is no possibility of blocking patients. Can you imagine how blocking patients from view makes them feel? It is certainly not welcoming.
So, what do patients have to do when they arrive? Knock on the window? Oh, I'm sure that makes a great first impression. If I walked into an office like that, I don't think I'd go back. The non-verbal cue to the patient is, "Sit down and shut up. You really don't matter here."
Second, I would ask how long this front desk person has been there. Is she showing signs of dementia? Paranoia?
Third, the doctor should physically take down the contact paper himself and tell the front desk person directly that she is not permitted to block the view in any way. If she can't live with that mandate, she needs to go.
Her attempts to block the view to her office suggest several possibilities: (1) she's engaged in something she's not supposed to be doing and she doesn't want patients to see her, (2) she's antisocial, which makes her unfit for the job at the front desk, or (3) she's developed paranoia, which, again, means she’s unfit for the job.
The doctor needs to grow a spine and put a stop to this person's bizarre behavior, and possibly let her go. Blocking patients from view sends a very negative message, not to mention the hardship it puts on staff members merely trying to see if their patients have arrived. Plus, the noise of constantly opening and closing the window is annoying. This is beyond ridiculous! Her reception area indeed! It absolutely is not!
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2017; updated August 2022
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