There are many ways to improve your clinical practice, and one of those ways is just waiting for your attention. That’s right, medical office waiting rooms can make the difference between a positive or negative patient experience. And if you think it doesn’t matter to your patients what your waiting room is like, think again. After all, your waiting room is your clinic’s first impression, and we all know that first impressions matter.
According to a 2019 patient survey, an unpleasant waiting room was the most cited reason patients would not return to a specific provider, even more so than long wait times. (7) While a long wait time took a backseat to an unpleasant waiting room experience, it’s clear that patients do pay attention to how long they wait, which is a great place to start when addressing your clinic’s medical waiting rooms experience.
Managing wait times
The amount of time a patient has to wait to see the doctor does matter. According to the 9th Annual Vitals Wait Time Report released in 2018, 84% of the survey respondents said that wait time is either somewhat or very important. The survey also revealed that 30% of patients have left a doctor’s appointment because of a long wait and one in five people have switched doctors because of long wait times. They also found that doctors with a five-star rating had an average wait time of under 14 minutes, while the one-star doctors had an average wait time of more than 34 minutes. (1)
A 2019 study about the wait time experience found that patients expect to wait and can even have a tendency to be forgiving about a long wait if they perceive their care to have a high value. In other words, it’s worth the wait. The same paper offers up these ways to help manage the wait experience:
- Inform patients ahead of time of wait delays to help manage expectations and increase tolerance.
- Offer a sincere apology for long delays.
- Provide patients with the opportunity to use their wait time constructively by having them come prepared (for example, with a book) or having access to educational materials in the waiting room. (2)
Addressing the patient’s wait time is just one of many waiting room best practices. Here are other ways to improve your clinic’s waiting room experience.
Creating the best waiting room experience
The waiting room experience has now entered the consciousness of the healthcare industry. And the reason waiting rooms are gaining more attention is that research shows that medical waiting rooms have the potential to calm patients and even aid in their healing. (6)
The patient’s waiting room experience begins when they open the door to your practice. The person at the front desk is there to help patients feel comfortable and welcome, and from there you can use art, color, and lighting to set the tone for a calming patient experience. (5) The waiting room should be clean and organized, avoiding harsh fluorescent lighting and, if possible, having natural light and views of the outdoors to add a calming influence. (3) The patient’s physical comfort is also important.
Choosing furniture for medical waiting rooms
Waiting room seating is significant. Chairs should not only be comfortable and able to accommodate a wide range of body types, but they should also be durable and easy to clean. Chairs should be positioned in an open floor plan with different options so patients can easily select where they would like to sit, and there should be enough chairs to accommodate a family member or other person who may be with the patient. (3)
Being mindful of media
Some medical waiting rooms rely on televisions to be a good distraction and make the wait easier. However, research indicates the opposite—televisions can be stress-promoting, particularly if the program is the news, political, or other similar station. (4) Televisions in the waiting area have consistently been shown to be stressful, especially because patients are unable to control the volume or programming. (5) Instead of a television showing the news or cable programs, consider showing nature videos or pictures of nature in the waiting room to positively affect mood and instill a sense of calm. (4)
In addition to technology in the waiting room, you may also want to consider using technology to reduce the time spent in the waiting room by allowing patients to check themselves in, enter health history information online, or get alerts about their exam time. (3)
The bottom line
Let’s face it, seeing a doctor can be stressful for many patients. The waiting room environment can either reduce or exacerbate the patient’s stress, which can in turn influence their healing. In addition, research even shows that an appealing waiting room also positively influences the mental health of providers and the staff. (4) It’s a win-win for everyone when you create the best waiting room experience.
- Business Wire. (2018). 9th Annual Vitals Wait Time Report Released. March 22. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180322005683/en/9th-Annual-Vitals-Wait-Time-Report-Released.
- Chu, H., Westbrook, R. A., Njue-Marendes, S., Giordano, T. P., & Dang, B. N. (2019). The psychology of the wait time experience – what clinics can do to manage the waiting experience for patients: a longitudinal, qualitative study. BMC health services research, 19(1),
- Collins, P. B., Coren, J. S., Dinzeo, T. J., & Lehrman, S. (2020). Improving the waiting room experience. Fam Pract Manag, 27(1):14-18.
- Fryburg, D. A. (2021). What’s playing in your waiting room? Patient and provider stress and the impact of waiting room media. Journal of Patient Experience, 8:1-10.
- Jacobs K. (2016). Patient Satisfaction by Design. Seminars in hearing, 37(4), 316–324.
- Lamb, M. D. (2021). Health inequity by design: waiting rooms and patient stress. Frontiers in Communication, Sept 10.
- Qualtrics. (2019). Healthcare pain index 2019. https://www.qualtrics.com/m/assets/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Healthcare_PI_Report.pdf