Taking the Misery out of the Waiting Room

By Steve Barrett
Saturday, July 1, 2017

“Waiting Room.” it is hard to deny that those words summon negative associations for a significant percentage — if not a majority — of patients in the United States.

But with some planning and creativity, your waiting room can reduce patient dread and foster better outcomes, say experts who weighed in with The DO, a publication of the American Osteopathic Association.

Shift your terminology. Al Turner, DO, and fellow clinicians in Portland, Oregon, eschewed “waiting room” in favor of “reception area” or “reception space” — and they equipped the area with only six chairs, spurring them to stay on schedule.

“It is insulting for patients to make an appointment to wait,” Dr. Turner, who recently retired, told The DO.

Leverage natural light or the next-best thing. Jean Hansen, Sustainable Interiors Manager in the San Francisco office of HDR Architecture, notes this has a calming effect on patients.

“Let daylight flood the space” when appropriate, Hansen says, and use shades during times of intense light. Lighting options using LED bulbs, rather than linear fluorescent fixtures, do not hum or flicker, making them a soothing alternative if natural light isn’t available, says Rosalyn Cama, a healthcare interior designer based in New Haven, Connecticut.

Ditch the tube. TV is often superfluous.

“Most people walk around with their own entertainment today,” Cama says. “Televisions are an intrusion into what I am doing with my own device.”

Furnish Your Way to a Better Patient Experience

Researchers with Steelcase Health, part of Michigan-based office furniture and interior architecture firm Steelcase Inc., spent five days observing patients and their families in a waiting room.

Among their goals: learning more about seating patterns by which families group themselves, gaining insight into families’ expectations in order to consider changes in furnishings and delving into the effect of environmental factors on the patient experience.

Certain mistakes in design kept surfacing, including:

  • The inability of families to separate themselves sufficiently from strangers
  • The lack of appropriate group spaces in which families could gather
  • The lack of chair configurations geared toward just one or two individuals
  • Too few chairs with direct lines of sight to staff or monitors that provide information
  • The lack of space for electronic devices and other belongings

Emphasizing that final point, 20 percent of occupied chairs were used for holding personal items, not seating people, researchers say. Thoughtful approaches to seating and storage space can reduce the investment in furniture and enhance patient value, they add.

“This isn’t about packing the most people in the waiting room,” Michelle Ossmann, RN, MSN, PhD, Director of Health Environments for Steelcase Health, states in a paper summarizing the findings. “It’s about responding to their behaviors in a more intuitive way — a way that helps relieve some of the stress of being at a medical facility.”