When you were growing up, your mother probably told you first impressions are the most important. She was right. And when it comes to the field of healthcare, the waiting room makes the first impression patients have of your medical office, and the services you provide. Today, a medical clinic’s first impression and its waiting room are more important than ever.
"the waiting room is the first impression patients will have of your medical office"
Patients’ experiences of their medical care have always been a big factor in how clinics and hospitals are evaluated. Since the advent of HCAHPS (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey) patient’s experiences at their doctor’s offices have become not only more easily quantifiable, but also more tied to an office’s performance and funding. While 30 percent of medical clinics’ reimbursements from Medicare are based on the clinic’s HCAHPS scores, only around 7 percent of those evaluated managed to receive a five star rating when the system was first instituted in 2015.
The scores are determined by patients’ rating of a range of topics. But while there are many factors that go into HCAHPS scores, it can be hard for patients to determine things like the qualifications and competency of their doctors. Instead, it is much easier for a patient to gauge how comfortable they feel during the course of their visit and this can greatly affect their perception of the quality of their medical care. Thanks to patient satisfaction surveys and hcahps scores, those in the medical field are beginning to recognize how important a comforting environment can be to the overall quality of care for their patients.
The Chicago Tribune reported that healthcare professionals are finding that when their waiting rooms make their patients feel at home and relaxed, they are more responsive to treatment. Doctors have finally started to move towards designing their waiting rooms to center around comfort. Creating an environment that minimizes stress allows patients to focus on their treatment solutions instead of focusing on their fears.
As the tribune noted, some clinics have pulled out all the stops: hiring architects to design medical offices that look like Greek villas, taking out walls to move in giant mahogany reception desks, or replacing all the old fashioned metal countertops with marble.
Of course, not all medical clinics are going to be able to erect marble sculptures in their waiting rooms. But even those with more modest means can prioritize their patient’s comforts. Steelcase has been doing research on what features medical offices can incorporate into their waiting rooms to help make patients feel more at ease.
Steelcase went on-site to clinic waiting rooms to observe how patients acted in traditional waiting rooms and try to spot problems and find solutions. What they saw is probably unsurprising to most of us. Current waiting room designs were highly impractical and uncomfortable for patients’ needs.
"current waiting room designs were highly impractical
and uncomfortable for patients’ needs"
Stiff, uncomfortable chairs were arranged in straight lines, designed to pack the most seating into the room. But only 80 percent of those chairs were being used by people. Instead the rest were being used for storage and had personal items or food occupying the seats. Families that had come with patients were often forced to stand in order to talk with their relatives. The seating arrangements prevented people from being able to sit together comfortably and talk to loved ones, and also prevented patients and families from having a clear view of the reception desk.
In a healthcare setting there are three things that patients need most: privacy, intimacy, and information. One of the easiest ways for medical offices to make their waiting rooms more comforting is to create spaces that meet these three needs.
Patients want seating options that allow them to sit together with their family and allow them to talk about private matters without being easily disturbed or overhead by others. Patients and families also want to be able to easily see the front desk or any other information sources, so they see or hear if their name is called or any other status updates.
The old waiting room chairs were replaced with new comfortable seats that accommodated a variety of movement and positions. They were arranged in small groups that had clear lines of sight to monitors and the front desk, along with tables that provided storage for personal items. While fewer seats were needed, the new configuration produced improved patient satisfaction immensely.
Just by paying attention to the lay-out of your waiting room furniture and making some minor changes, you can make a huge impact in your patients’ experience at your office. In addition, while hiring a sculptor or felling a tree for a new front desk might not be the most practical way to warm up your interior decorating on a budget, there are many more personal and homey touches that you can make to your waiting room without breaking the bank.
First, instead of impersonal diplomas and creepy posters about diseases on the walls, try using soothing artwork. Next, consider replacing cold sterile surfaces like metal or plastic, with furniture that uses warm, natural (easily cleanable) materials like wood. Lastly, provide your patients with the opportunity to entertain themselves or get some work done by making sure there are plenty of places for them to plug in and charge devices while waiting.