The information desk in an integral part of every medical setting. The people who work at this station serve as the eyes and ears of the institution, from fielding calls to directing patients. The people sitting at the information desk have the unique opportunity to see the entire patient base rather than the limited patients seen by a single physician during a routine day. Duties and experiences of personnel manning the information desk may vary according to the institution and patient base. This allows for rich variation in observational experiences.  


-To gain understanding of patient diversity and patient needs from medical to logistical.

-To observe the interaction between patients and the medical environment from a non-medical perspective.

-To appreciate the diversity of roles played by non-medical and auxiliary personnel in medical settings.


Any large medical setting with an information station.

Recommended Preparatory Reading:

Mosley, Pixey Anne. “Assessing User Interactions at the Desk Nearest the Front Door”.Reference & User Services Quarterly 47.2 (2007): 159–167. Web.

Album, D. "Patients' Knowledge and Patients' Work. Patient-Patient Interaction in General Hospitals." Acta Sociologica 32.3 (1989): 295-306. Web. 


This activity should take approximately 30 minutes of preparatory reading. For the activity, the student should shadow for at least 90 minutes. Post-shadowing, about 30 minutes of reflection should be done. Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

Appropriate for:

-Advanced undergraduate students.

-Undergraduate students considering a career in the healthcare field.

Activity Description:

Visit the information/reception desk at a medical facility. Shadow the facility employees working the desk. Pay close attention to their duties and interactions with patients. Take field notes, immediately after the shadowing experience to enable meaningful reflection. 

Items to note:

-approximate patient volume 

-approachability/accessibility of desk staff

-patient demographic

-variety of patient questions and needs

-any unexpected issues (ex. billing, scheduling)

-patient path/behavior around reception area

1. Set up a mutually agreed upon time to shadow at a medical facility that has an information desk. This should be fairly straightforward as virtually every medical facility has a variation of an information desk. 

2. Inquire about the dress code for the personnel you plan to shadow and attempt to dress the same. This will allow you to blend in at the shadowing site.

3. Upon arrival, introduce yourself to everyone at the information desk and explain what you hope to get out of your experience. Make an attempt to broach a conversation with the staff. Ask them about their experiences and duties. 

4. Pay close attention to the interactions between staff and patients. Keep notes of any particularly intriguing observations.

5. After you are finished shadowing, immediately write down your reactions to what you have observed and any other important things you would like to note. 

6. Later look back on your notes and reflect on your experiences. Think about the things you have seen and learned about the administrative side of medicine. 


-How does patient approach towards desk staff differ from their interactions with medical personnel such as nurses and physicians? 

-What did you learn about the nature of these interactions?

Author: LaShay and Archana