Picture this: Your new patient has been sitting on a thinly padded chair in the waiting room of your office for 45 minutes. Immediately next to them is a person who is watching videos on their phone at full volume. The only other seat is next to a woman who cannot stop coughing.
Your waiting room is your first chance to deliver on the exceptional patient experience patients expect from you, and yet, patients often encounter situations similar to the one outlined above. According to a patient survey, it only takes 20 minutes of waiting for nearly 60 percent of patients to start to feel frustration.
Although often wait times are out of your (or your staff’s) control, minimizing them can help spur patient satisfaction. For those days where a wait is unavoidable, making a few waiting room upgrades can greatly improve your patients’ overall experience and help them enjoy their time in your independent practice.
Here are a few ideas you can implement to create a waiting room your patients will love.
1. Update your waiting room furniture and layout
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.
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 COVID-19 pandemic has also made patients feel less secure about spending a long period of time in close quarters with other people. Prioritizing space can help all patients feel more comfortable.
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 dental 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.
2. Appoint a waiting room liaison
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 waiting room liaison is someone who greets patients when they walk in. This person may seek to familiarize themselves with patients’ situations and take the extra time to get to know patients at your office. They may also help them navigate follow-up appointments.
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.
3. Make waiting active
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 with products for sale 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.
4. Keep patients informed of wait times
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 be transparent.
You may also consider the option of allowing patients to wait in their cars or to go grab a quick cup of coffee while they wait. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many practices opted for “virtual waiting” to reduce the number of people in the waiting room at a time. Besides reducing the possibility of infection, virtual waiting also returns a level of autonomy to your patients while they wait for their appointments.
Equip your practice with secure two-way patient text messaging as part of patient intake to communicate with patients regarding wait times or when it’s their turn.
5. Offer small waiting room luxuries
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.
6. Make a community connection
Healthcare practices are local businesses, and making a connection with your local community can make a significant difference among patients. One way to show off your ties to the local community is to hang a community bulletin board that includes flyers about local hikes, farmer’s markets, and other activities that promote healthy living. Another idea is to team up with local artists to display their artwork for sale.
What makes a good waiting room?
A beautiful waiting room that promotes health, wellness, and productivity is part of the experience that turns patients into loyal customers. No one enjoys waiting, but your waiting room can make a big difference. A good waiting room promotes comfort and autonomy. Even if patients have to wait, they can feel like they have ownership of their time.
Patients might not choose your practice based on the waiting room alone, but it will affect their memory of their visit.