Along with waiting at the DMV and sitting in traffic, time spent in a doctor’s waiting room is ranked among life’s top inconveniences. No one enjoys sitting in an enclosed area full of sick people, idling his or her time with year-old magazines in a lackluster room while waiting to see the doctor. Even with appointments, wait times can be lengthy due to the fact that most offices overbook to compensate for frequent cancellations, but nothing is worse than waiting in a cluttered, unorganized, or boring space. So just how can you transform your waiting room from a drab limbo into a welcoming lounge area where patients feel comfortable spending their time? Here are a few tips to help you optimize your waiting room so your patients get the most out of their visits.
Making a good first impression is the initial step to providing patients with a comfortable waiting room, which can often feel dull and bureaucratic, so try displaying a welcome board to provide a friendlier atmosphere. Welcome boards can be utilized to introduce your doctors with a picture for patients to put a face to the name, and can include community information such as upcoming activities and classes. The reception area is also one of the first things a person sees when entering a doctor’s office. Make sure it’s clear where to sign in and that someone is always there to greet a patient. “The receptionist should seem available to incoming patients,” advises Tim Griffin, a medical planning consultant with Medical Design International in Atlanta. “If she’s behind a cold, glass window that screeches like a haunted house when it’s slid open, she doesn’t seem available.” Additionally, windows can really open up a waiting room. A lot of offices have exam rooms with windows, but they go to waste because the blinds have to be closed for privacy reasons. If possible, designate the room with the most windows as the waiting room to provide as much access to daylight as possible because natural scenes reduce stress levels. If you have windows with southern exposure, cover them with translucent shades that let in light, yet prevent glare.
When it comes to furnishing a doctor’s office, it’s important to avoid making it feel like an airport. “Cluster chairs, but no more than 5 in a group,” says Rosalyn Cama, a health care interior designer in New Haven, Connecticut. Never line chairs along walls, but rather group them together as you would in your living room. What about chairs versus sofas? Most doctors prefer chairs because patients don’t particularly want to share a seat with a coughing, sneezing, and potentially contagious stranger. Also, the elderly often have trouble getting up from a sofa without the aid of 2 sturdy arms. However, mothers tend to feel more comfortable in sofas, where they can keep their children close, so it really depends on your type of practice.
It may seem obvious to put a television in your waiting room so patients can pass their time, but it’s not that simple. A television can actually send the wrong message, implying that there will be a long wait time. It’s like telling patients, “We know you’re going to probably wait awhile, so watch this in the meantime.” TVs can even make time go by slower, not faster. This is perhaps because people are aware how long a television show lasts, so after a few commercial breaks, it becomes obvious just how long they have been waiting. Televisions also need to be loud to be heard, and patients don’t need the noisy distraction while they are sick or worried that they might be. However, if you still decide on including a TV in your waiting room, consider playing educational DVDs or a cable news network. As an alternative, play CDs or a radio station for your patients and offer them magazines to flip through. Make sure the music is something inoffensive, such as jazz, classical, or light rock, and keep the magazines current. Offering free WiFi is a huge plus, especially for busy patients who can utilize their wait time working so they do not feel as if they are wasting time. Some practices even offer tablets for their patients while they wait.
Let’s face it: people hate waiting. The average wait time in a doctor’s office is 20 minutes, and according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 20 minutes is too long. However, psychologists say that it’s the perception of the wait time that actually matters, rather than the actual wait, so the trick is to make patients feel that they are waiting for as little time as possible. Airports do this by creating a longer walk from the gate to baggage claim. If it takes 10 minutes for bags to arrive at baggage claim from the plane, and passengers spend 1 minute walking there, they end up spending 90% of their time waiting. But if it takes 5 minutes to walk to baggage claim, only 50% of their time was spent waiting. This makes a big difference in how productive a person perceives their wait time.
In your practice’s waiting room, consider offering a complimentary hot beverage. It takes several minutes for a person to steep tea or brew coffee, plus another 10 or 15 minutes to drink it. By the time patients are called to see the doctor, they probably won’t be finished with their drink, leaving them with the perception that they didn’t wait long. Another tactic is to overestimate the wait time. People hate it when they expect a short wait and end up with long one, so instead, tell patients their wait time will be an extra 10 minutes than is estimated. When they are called in earlier, they will think they are getting in to see the doctor early.
There are many ways to arrange your waiting room and countless techniques to occupy your patients’ time. Some work and some don’t, but in the end, it all comes down to what works best for your particular practice.
- Fried D. Lessons from waiting rooms. The Profitable Practice website. November 19, 2012. http://profitable-practice.softwareadvice.com/lessons-from-waiting-rooms-1111912.
- Lopez A, Detz A, Ratanawongsa N, Sarkar U. What patients say about their doctors online: a qualitative content analysis. J Gen Intern Med. 2012;27(6):685-692. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3358396.
- Pennachio DL. Your waiting room: create a first-rate impression. Medical Economics website. November 7, 2003. http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/news/practice-pointersyour-waiting-room-create-first-rate-impression.