In a survey commissioned last year by UX-design agency Sequence, 85 percent of those surveyed describe seeing their doctor between 10 and 30 minutes past their scheduled appointment time, and 63 percent say that waiting is “the most stressful part of the doctor appointment experience.” As the report points out, “there is room for improvement.”
The waiting room is a logical place to start—and an important one. Medicine is complicated, so patients resort to evaluating healthcare by what they can understand, according to marketing expert Leonard Berry. That means how welcoming the space feels and how pleasant the receptionist is—essentially the features you’ll find in a waiting room.
You have two ways to enhance your patients’ time here: First, by decreasing the actual time patients spend in that room and, second, by limiting the perceived time they spend in it. While the latter may seem irrelevant, even silly, it’s, in fact, not. As a 2008 Cornell University study concluded, perceived wait time affects patient satisfaction even more than the actual wait time. Here are a few ways to tackle this.
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Add calming elements and eliminate stressful ones
“Anxiety makes waits feel longer, ” says Tanya Paz, senior designer at CAMA Inc., an interior-design studio. As the Cornell University study reports, “patient perception of quality of care, anxiety, feeling cared for and likelihood of recommending the practice to others were twice as high” in the spaces that were ranked as most attractive compared to those that were ranked least attractive. A few simple ways to up your waiting room’s appeal:
- Straighten up throughout the day. Dirty cups on a table can bring down ratings no matter how good the physician.
- Eliminate TV. Or provide headsets for those who want to watch. Otherwise, TV’s “don’t give people a choice; it’s sort of forced upon them,” says Ed Bottomley, a partner at CAMA Inc.,
- Upgrade your reading material. Consider offering a few thoughtfully chosen coffee-table books (instead of magazines that quickly get old), or tablets with magazines, newspapers, and health apps uploaded. Consolidate pamphlets and pharmaceutical ads into a binder or in one area of the room.
- Let in nature. “If you have the flexibility, put the waiting area where there are windows,” says Rosalyn Cama, president of CAMA Inc., and author of Evidence- Based Healthcare Design. A glimpse of the outdoors can feel like a reprieve from the stress indoors. And as with artwork depicting nature and actual plants, it gives people something familiar to look at, and familiarity provides a feeling comfort.
Vary the seating
Group chairs together to give families a feeling of privacy and comfort. If there’s a TV, place only a portion of your seating around it. Include solo spaces elsewhere for those who want privacy. Add chairs around a table. “If relevant to your practice, make sure chairs have arms for older patients to get up more easily,” says Greg Knighton, president of Behind the Office Door, a Wisconsin-based office furniture retailer.
Let your patients get stuff done
According to a recent survey by The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a group that promotes humanistic healthcare, patients will wait patiently for 20 minutes, but after that they start to feel that you’re wasting their time. The American Journal of Managed Care put a dollar value on that time. Taking into account the exam, travel, paperwork, in addition to the wait time, the authors arrived at $43, which is more than the average out-of-pocket cost for a visit. To curb the time wasted, make your waiting room is work-friendly. A table (think Starbucks) in an area with less traffic encourages laptop use. Outlets keep patients’ devices charged.
In a survey conducted by Software Advice, 80 percent of people said they would feel less frustrated if only they were simply told in advance what that wait time might be. “There’s a lot of mystery in healthcare delivery,” says Thomas Ullman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Mount Sinai Doctors Faculty Practice. “When we help people become a more educated, engaged patient, we build a bond of trust and a partnership, and the patients become more active participants in their own care.” This can start even before the patient sees you:
- Consider a wait-time board. What feeds into waiting-room frustration is that patients feel they have little knowledge or control of the situation. To improve matters, Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City, has instituted a wait-time board in many of their provider offices—displaying the doctor, her photo, and whether he’s on schedule (if not, it also displays the number of minutes he’s running behind).
- Text the status. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed by Sequence said that they’d appreciate a text alert about the wait status, even if they’ve already left their house. After all, this lets them feel less rushed. It allows them time to fit in an errand or maybe even stop by a coffee bar before heading to your office—and isn’t waiting always a little easier with an chai latte in hand?