Seated by a stranger who can’t stop coughing, while battling a migraine and angsting over deadlines back at the office… it’s no wonder patients say being stuck in the waiting room is the worst part of going to the doctor.
Minimizing wait time – which averages 21 minutes nationwide – is clearly a practice’s best defense, but it shouldn’t be the only one.
A well designed waiting room experience can reduce patient anxiety, enhance perceptions about quality of care, distinguish your practice, generate positive word-of-mouth, and actually make the wait feel shorter than it is.
A 2009 survey conducted at outpatient clinics in New York City found a direct positive correlation between aesthetically appealing waiting rooms and patient opinions about their doctors’ visits.
The study asked 205 patients to rate their experience at seven clinics in the Weill Cornell Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital system; the waiting rooms of each had previously and independently been ranked for attractiveness. Those who visited the attractive facilities reported better overall satisfaction with the quality of care received, their interactions with staff, and a reduction in anxiety. In addition, a comparison of actual time and patients’ perception of time spent waiting was underestimated by those who’d visited the attractive facilities and overestimated by those at the less attractive ones.
Your waiting room is the first chance to tell patients, “’we care about you,” says Michelle Granelli, a principal at the San Francisco design firm, Urban Chalet.
Great design doesn’t have to break the bank either. Whether your budget is Sotheby’s or Ikea, “what’s important,” Granelli adds, “is making the right design decisions.”
Here are six strategies to help you do that, and ultimately, turn your waiting room from a frustration into an asset.
Make waiting active
A user-friendly design allows patients to be productive while they wait. That said, free Wi-Fi branded to your practice should be a given. But don’t stop there: If space permits, consider providing, as some practices do, individual desks or communal work tables and charging stations. A lot of patients are missing work to see you, so allowing them to work while they wait alleviates stress and shows you value their time.
Some practices offer patients iPads (often tethered to furniture) pre-loaded with games healthcare information, digital magazines, newspapers, and social apps.
This pediatric practice’s amazing waiting room celebrates the outdoors and provides visual stimulation for kids – and adults – with live webcam broadcasts from the local zoo.
One creative intern set up a waiting room service where patients could use their cell phones to scan and order the ingredients for healthy recipes – created by the practice’s doctors – from the grocery delivery service Peapod. After patients place orders in the waiting room, the groceries are delivered to their homes.
Another possibility, add a retail area. It provides patients an opportunity to shop for products related to your specialty. Optometrists and dermatologists usually do this, but there are possibilities for other specialties too, including dentists, chiropractors and integrative medicine practitioners.
Bottom-line: active waiting feels shorter than sitting and watching the clock.
“Being forced to sit next to someone you don’t know in a hard chair with your back against the wall and bad TV blaring makes patients feel like they’re being held hostage,” says Rosalyn Cama, author of Evidence-based Health Care Design and president of CAMA Inc., a healthcare design firm in New Haven, CT.
To liberate patients, she advises, offering a variety of setting options. Try a cluster of chairs around a coffee table for families, areas for professionals who want to work, and child-friendly corners where parents can entertain their kids without bothering others.
Seating that’s movable gives an even greater sense of control. If you have a TV, a big debate these days, make sure not everyone is forced to watch it, and that programming is either specially produced health fare or light and inoffensive (i.e.: HGTV, The Cooking Channel).
55% of 2,000 patients questioned said they wish they had access to estimated wait times on a screen in the waiting room, while 61% would like a text message alerting them when their doctor is running late.
Patients also feel more in control when they’re given a specific and accurate estimate of their wait time. According to a recent survey from San Francisco-based Sequence, a development and branding firm, 55% of 2,000 patients questioned said they wish they had access to estimated wait times on a screen in the waiting room, while 61% would like a text message alerting them when their doctor is running late. Some practices offer restaurant-style pagers so patients can take a stroll outside or simply go to the bathroom without worrying that they’ll miss their turn.
The Power of Pampering
From the parents’ coffee bar and teen web-surfing station at Beverly Pediatric Dentistry in McLean, VA to the waiting room mini fridge filled with complimentary bottled water at Tulip Tree Dental Care in South Bend, IN dentists have employed the power of pampering for years. It’s not lost on patients either. Consider a recent photo posted on Instagram by a mom enjoying a waiting room massage chair while her kids got their teeth cleaned. It amassed over 1,100 likes and comments that enthused, “I’d be taking my kids to the dentist every week!” and “That dentist is a genius.”
Embrace your mission and clientele
Design and furnishings should reflect your values of medicine. Those wishing to be known for innovative procedures might opt for modern clean lines, while natural and green materials are better for integrative or homeopathic practices.
For instance, the waiting area at Kaio Dental is cheerful and chic, with beautiful large windows, comfy chairs, and beautiful patterns. The design is minimal and serene, conveying the practice’s modernity, while the lime green and flower patterns are a fun, friendly pop of color.
Cater to your clientele, as well. That means making sure you have the right type of seating and enough of it so that people aren’t force to sit next to strangers. Moms with young children like couches and love seats. Geriatric patients need sturdy chairs with arms that are easy to get in and out of.
Make a community connection
Offer a community bulletin board with information about local hikes, farmers markets and other activities that promote healthy living. Some practices have embraced their communities by teaming up with local galleries to display rotating art work. “People are craving a local connection,” says Granelli of Urban Chalet.
Consider hiring a waiting room liaison
“This is someone who knows patients’ profiles and situations and greets them when they come in,” explains Christine Guzzo Vickery, vice president and senior interior designer of HGA in Minneapolis. “The manager takes takes extra time to ask questions and asks patients if they have any questions and if they’d like to schedule a follow up.
You’re giving patients attention from the minute they walk in. The Mayo Clinic does that for their executive physicals. It’s extra care.”
Patients may not choose your practice based on waiting room but it will affect their memory of their visit. A beautiful waiting room that promotes health, wellness, and productivity, is part of the holistic experience that turns patients into loyal customers.
By Susan Spillman
Susan Spillman is a content writer at PatientPop. She has over 20 years of journalism experience covering business, health and medicine, among other topics. Her work has appeared in a variety of national print and digital outlets, including: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Lifescript.com, The Huffington Post, AOL and Advertising Age. When not researching and writing, she enjoys hiking, yoga, reading and spending time with her husband and two children.