Waiting room

No one likes to wait, especially when there is some stress related to that wait — like there often is for patients.

Waiting times can be hard for a practice to curb; you have one late patient after another, or you just want to go that extra mile for someone. You can, however, improve the perception of the time spent by making simple changes to your waiting room.

According to the latest poll at vitals.com, the average wait time for patients in a neurologist’s office is about 20 minutes. This is comparable to practices in general, and it is about the limit at which patients begin to report dissatisfaction.

These days, practice owners need to be concerned with patient satisfaction. It is all too easy for unhappy patients to leave low ratings and negative comments on the many doctor rating sites or surveys used by Medicare to determine reimbursement.

Your waiting room is one of the first places you have to make a good — or bad — impression.

All of us, even doctors and practice owners, have to sit in waiting rooms from time to time. Without a doubt, the pain of waiting is lessened when a space is clean, tidy and professional looking. We all feel better when there is good lighting, nice artwork and comfy furniture. And, nowadays, we probably want a place to plug in a phone or laptop too.

Wall outlet

In addition to giving us an impression of the person we are waiting for, a waiting room experience can make us feel the wait time is longer or shorter than it really is. This means that even if you can’t cut down on your office wait times, you can cut down on your patients’ perceived waiting times.

The Association for Patient Experience offers some fun suggestions on how to shorten perceived waiting times by borrowing from other industries. They include the following:

  • Offer a hot drink like they do at a salon
  • Give out pagers that will buzz and light up when it’s their turn
  • Have patients take a number so they know their place in the queue
  • Offer free Wi-Fi

Woman in waiting room looking at tablet

The architectural and furniture design firm Steelcase partnered with several medical centers to observe how patients actually behave in waiting rooms. They published their findings and provided design suggestions in this white paper. Here is what they found:

1. Patients want a clear view of the front desk or information resource.

Patients want to see when they are called, and they choose seats that face or are angled toward sources of this information. Steelcase suggests considering this instead of placing chairs toward a nice painting or view out a window.

2. Patients and their families want some amount of privacy.

Patients in a waiting room are generally either alone or in groups of two, with just five percent in groups of three or four. They tend not to socialize with strangers, and they make efforts to create some amount of privacy. Steelcase suggests rather than arranging chairs in single rows, leave some spaces, utilize dividers and group chairs in pairs or small groups.

3. People want a place to put their stuff.

About 20% of occupied chairs are used to set belongings instead of people. Steelcase suggests offering storage solutions like end tables, cubbies or larger chairs.

The next time you have a few minutes, put yourself in your patients’ shoes and take a seat in your own waiting room. Make sure you like what you see.