Activity 10: Interview a Receptionist, Doctor, and Patient



Explore the process behind scheduling a doctor’s appointment from the point of view of the receptionist, the patient, and the doctor.  This will be done as a short interview with someone from each category. 


1)    Student will discover specifically what the job of a receptionist entails when scheduling an appointment.

2)    Student will discuss patient’s experience with coordinating a visit to see their doctor.

3)    Student will obtain doctor’s opinion on their patient load and appointment schedule.


Any setting where a patient needs an appointment to see a medical professional.

Recommended Preparatory Reading:

A. Soriano. “Comparison of Two Scheduling Systems.” Operations Research 14.3 (1966): 388-397.

Baldwin, John T. "Appointment System in General Practice." The British Medical Journal 1.5166 (1960): 9-11. 

Hurtado, Arnold V., Merwyn R. Greenlick, and Theodore J. Colombo. "Determinants of Medical Care Utilization: Failure to Keep Appointments." Medical Care 11.3 (1973): 189-98. 


It is estimated that the student will need under thirty minutes to speak with each patient, fifteen minutes for the receptionist, and fifteen minutes for the doctor.  Note taking and reflection are included in this time.  This activity should take about an hour and a half to complete. 

Appropriate for:

-advanced undergraduate students; undergraduate medical students; graduate students in the health professions.

Activity Description:

1)    When you arrive at your shadowing site, take some quick notes on the appearance of the waiting room.  Does it seem busy? Do the patients appear to have been waiting long?

2)    After some brief observation, ask one of the receptionists if she has time to speak with you.  Explain that you are trying to get a better idea of what is involved with scheduling medical appointments.  Take notes on her job duties, the policies of the doctor’s office, and any other relevant information. 

-How far out does a patient need to schedule?

-Is it possible to be seen same day/week? 

-What is the cancellation policy?

-How smooth is this process with the patients?

3)    Politely ask if a patient would like to share their experience on scheduling an appointment.  It may work best to interview them either in the waiting room before their appointment or after they have finished with the doctor. 

-How easy was it for them to schedule? 

-How far out did they schedule this appointment? 

-If applicable, what was their wait time before their appointment? 

-Is this usually what they expect at this office?

4)    Repeat same interview questions with one other patient.

5)    Next talk to the doctor about what his or her opinions are on their appointment schedule.  

-How many patients do they see a day?  Is this a good or bad amount?

-Opinion on time allowed for each patient?  Do they feel the need to rush through each person? 

-Have they previously received any feedback from their patients about scheduling?

-Are patients flexible and willing to find time for an appointment when they ask them for a follow up?


Following the completion of the interviews, take time to reflect on how this activity is relevant.  Try to apply what you’ve learned today with your future career goals. 

-What did you discover about what a patient must go through to schedule an appointment? 

-Does the appointment scheduling process need to be restructured?  If so, why and what suggestions do you have? 

-How would the convenience or difficulty of scheduling an appointment influence success of the treatment? 

-How important is it to keep an open and flexible schedule as a medical provider, receptionist, or patient?

-What does the structure of scheduling indicate about medicine as a business?

Author: Jessica Vogt and Sarah Wells