Picture this: You have been seated on a thinly padded chair in the waiting room of your doctor’s office for 45 minutes. Immediately next to you is a man who is watching videos on his phone at full volume. You’d move to a new location, but your only other option is an equally uncomfortable chair next to a woman who cannot stop coughing. Feeling a migraine set in, you rub your temples in frustration and hope your appointment will begin soon.
“Your waiting room is the first chance to tell patients we care about you,” says Michelle Granelli, a principal at San Francisco design firm Urban Chalet. And yet, patients often encounter situations similar to the one outlined above, which is why many say their time in the waiting room is the worst part of going to the doctor.
Minimizing wait time, which averages 21 minutes nationwide, is a good way for healthcare practices to better satisfy patients — but it isn’t the only way. Making a few waiting room upgrades can greatly improve their overall experience and help distinguish your practice from competition.
Here, we share a few ideas you can implement to create a waiting room your patients will love.
Many practice waiting rooms look more or less the same: rows and rows of antimicrobial chairs, bulky end tables cluttered with old magazines, a television or two tuned to national news. But spaces like these are highly uncomfortable, says Rosalyn Cama, FASID, NCIDQ, EDAC, author of “Evidence-Based Healthcare Design” and president of CAMA Inc. “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,” she says.
To liberate patients, Cama advises offering a variety of seating options. Try a cluster of chairs around a coffee table for families, a quiet space for professionals, and a child-friendly corner to keep kids entertained without bothering others. Seating that is movable gives an even greater sense of control.
The style, material, and color of the furniture you select should reflect your healthcare practice brand. Practices that want to be known for cutting-edge services and equipment, for example, might opt for modern furniture with clean lines. Practices that embrace holistic treatment, on the other hand, might opt for neutral colors and natural materials.
Kaio Dental, a practice in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, has a brand that is modern and inviting. Its waiting room has plenty of natural light and plush chairs. The design is minimal and serene, conveying the practice’s modernity, while the pops of color and floral patterns help convey the practice’s fun side.
Patients want to feel like they are important to your practice. Failing to make them feel appreciated can cause them to take their business elsewhere. By appointing a waiting room liaison, you ensure patients receive the attention they desire from the moment they walk in through the time they leave.
A liaison “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 extra time to ask patients if they have any questions and if they’d like to schedule a follow-up.”
You can hire a new staff person for this role, or you can appoint a current member of your staff to take on the responsibility.
When you provide an activity — or you provide the infrastructure patients need to be productive on their own — you make wait time seem shorter and keep patients from watching the clock.
Free WiFi should be a given, but don’t stop there. If space permits, consider providing individual desks or communal work tables and charging stations. Patients are often missing work for their appointments; helping them be productive can alleviate stress and show you value their time.
Some practices offer patients iPads — often tethered to the furniture — that come preloaded with games, digital magazines, newspapers, and social apps. One pediatric practice (pictured below) has a waiting room that provides visual stimulation for kids and adults with live webcam broadcasts from the local zoo.
In another example, a practice offered patients a service where they could use their cell phones to scan and order ingredients for healthy recipes — created by the practice’s doctors — from a grocery delivery company. After patients place orders in the waiting room, the groceries are delivered to their homes.
Another possibility is to add a retail area. A shopping area provides patients an opportunity to purchase products related to their visits. Optometrists and dermatologists usually do this, but there are possibilities for other specialties too, including dentists, chiropractors, and integrative medicine practitioners.
As we mentioned before, reducing wait times is a surefire way to improve patients’ experience in your waiting room. But long waits aren’t always avoidable, even for practices that embrace technology to streamline the front office. In these cases, it’s best to transparent.
According to development and branding firm Sequence, 55 percent of patients said they wish they had access to estimated wait times on a screen in the waiting room. And 61 percent would like a text message alerting them when their doctor is running late. Some practices even 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.
A little luxury can go a long way at the doctor’s office. Dentists have employed the power of pampering for years — including offering complimentary coffee bars and mini fridges full of bottled water and other beverages. This extra effort is not lost on patients.
Consider this photo posted on Instagram by a mom enjoying a waiting room massage chair while her kids had their teeth cleaned. It amassed more 1,100 likes and comments like, “I’d be taking my kids to the dentist every week!,” and “That dentist is a genius.”
Healthcare practices are local businesses. It’s a distinction patients want them to highlight, according to Granelli. “People crave a local connection,” she says.
One way to show off your ties to the local community is to hang a community bulletin board bulletin board that includes flyers about local hikes, farmers markets, and other activities that promote healthy living. Another idea is to team up with local artists to display their artwork for sale.
Patients might not choose your practice based on the waiting room alone, but it will affect their memory of their visit. A beautiful waiting room that promotes health, wellness, and productivity is part of the experience that turns patients into loyal customers.
Are you struggling to get your patients to come back to your practice? Check out the blog “4 Reasons Your Patient Retention is Declining — and How to Fix It.”