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Post-pandemic recommendations: Top tips for rethinking the waiting room experience at your healthcare practice

As communities begin moving past an era of “social distancing,” doctors’ office waiting rooms may become a thing of the past. How will you welcome patients to your healthcare practice beyond COVID?

In healthcare practices all over the U.S., waiting rooms look a lot different than they did a few years ago. You’ll likely find fewer chairs — or, as we’ve seen, just one — plenty of hand sanitizer, no magazines or pamphlets to read, and plexiglass panels standing between front desk staff and patients. 

It’s not the most welcoming environment. For patients who are new to your practice, or returning for the first time in a while, this experience may not leave the best first impression. What was initially enacted as a safety protocol may stick around for many practices, to continue conveying a safe situation for all patients, especially in offices where sick patients could potentially spread a virus to others. 

With all that’s changed, how can healthcare practices warmly welcome their patients, and even “wow” them with an above-average patient experience?

How to improve your healthcare practice’s waiting room experience

While many aspects of the traditional practice waiting room may be gone for good, the idea of waiting at the doctor’s office is not. Any patient checking in to see a physician, dentist, or other provider in person will most likely have a wait. 

What can healthcare practices do to improve the experience? How can you creatively welcome your patients, engage with them, and keep them as loyal local patients? Here are some top tips.

1. Set patients up for a shorter wait.

No one likes waiting. The 2020 PatientPop survey results tell us that after 20 minutes of waiting, nearly 60 percent of patients feel they’re having a negative experience. If you can keep wait times to a minimum, you’re more likely to see a calmer, satisfied patient, while you demonstrate that you respect and value their time. 

By implementing tools such as digital registration and patient intake, practices give patients the chance to get paperwork out of the way before they arrive. This reduces day-of-appointment wait times and improves the patient experience.

2. Introduce virtual waiting.

For many practices, having patients wait in their cars has been a necessity (and a luxury) during the COVID-19 pandemic. This one may stick around. Allowing your patients to wait in their cars gives them the comfort of their own environment, while avoiding unnecessary germs. Communicating during the wait time is easy with two-way text messaging, whether patients are waiting in their vehicles or outside the office. 

With a two-way text exchange during their wait, patients can provide you any final information. Then, you can easily let them know when it’s time to come inside for their appointment.

3. Entertain and communicate with waiting patients.

When patients wait to see healthcare providers, they often turn to their mobile devices to pass the time. Consider introducing them to your practice and providers with a welcome video that lets patients see your staff’s smiling faces. If you produce other videos that are relevant to the patient’s visit, share those as well. 

Send them links to recent communications such as your latest email newsletter or blog posts. Lastly, use that two-way text messaging to keep patients apprised of their wait time.

4. Think long-term engagement.

While patients are waiting for their appointment to begin, they are part of a captive audience. Take advantage of the time by encouraging patients to engage with your practice beyond just today’s visit. 

Ask them to follow you on social media, check out your blog, or sign up for your email newsletter while they wait. Remember to give them a reason to do any of the above: You can and should set up what they can expect to gain by subscribing to your communications; also, consider offering a branded giveaway for patients who engage during their wait, such as a facemask, bottle of hand sanitizer, or branded first aid kit with your logo on it.

Summary: Adjusting your waiting room to meet patient preferences and expectations

In the digital world, we have all come to expect immediacy more — in our day-to-day experiences, and in accessing information. Waiting can be a frustration, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Healthcare practices have two choices in improving their waiting room experience: 1. Move the experience out of the traditional waiting room and away from the traditional waiting room concept. 2. Give patients opportunities to connect and learn about your practice and services while they wait. You’ll show an elevated level of professionalism to new patients, and keep current patients engaged beyond their expectations. 

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