how it works


Take time to look, listen, and observe—without making assumptions and drawing conclusions. Observe the actions and interactions of patients in a waiting room and take in the environment—what is the patient doing, how are they sitting, what sounds are heard, and how bright is the space?

Once you’ve made your observations, validate and/or negate your assumptions by engaging users in follow-up discussion. Use this technique to learn about their experiences from their unique points of view.

It is a challenge to observe objectively. We rely on our past experiences, knowledge, and expertise to make sense of healthcare and our role within it. Challenge yourself to put aside what you know and see with fresh eyes.

Be cognizant of your organization’s policies and procedures when conducting research.


HOW to get started


  1. Determine what phenomena you need to observe—this may even involve your internal support staff.
  2. Have a clear purpose for conducting the structured observation. Build a list of aspects to document, as well as location and length of stay.
  3. When observing, document what you see as objectively as possible—avoid making assumptions about what you see, including biased language. Hold back from the heavy use of subjective adjectives when describing what you see—for example, do not assume a physician is stressed or a patient is frustrated.
  4. Bring a notebook to track insights "from the field," using a camera if permitted. Otherwise, doodle and improvise. 
  5. Once all observations have been made, take time to reflect on your observations and begin to interpret what you saw. Keep a separate list of observations and interpretations, as interpretations are subjective. 
  6. Use these observations as a springboard for continued exploration—seeking to validate your interpretations. Share your findings with your team to advance the discussion.

Making a conscious effort to suspend judgment is more challenging than it may seem. When effectively done, objective observation is a powerful starting point for analyzing experiences as they are—free of personal connotation. Challenge your team to engage in this process in order to understand the patient or physician experience and observe how the interpretations can vary drastically among your team.