Waiting rooms—they can feel like a necessary evil for hospitals and clinics. In fact, according to the American Journal of Managed Care, a majority of patients' negative feelings toward healthcare providers correlate back to long wait times and waiting-room experiences. So what can your organization do to combat this in its own patient greeting areas?
Here are four straightforward design tips for improving your waiting-room experience.
Though a mobile, digital queue can be a good start toward relieving some of the stress of sitting in a waiting room for too many minutes on end, it can also prove difficult to manage if patients stray too far from the facility when their numbers are called. But quantifying the wait time, or at least a range of an approximate wait time, can be a powerful tool. If you manage walk-in clinics, display your likely wait time prominently in your high-traffic entrance area. (Take a page out of the amusement park playbook, if you will, and forewarn your potential visitors to level-set their expectations from the get-go.) Consider including a self-serve tablet kiosk on which a patient can enter their information and find out what position they are in the queue, in order to leave receptionist stations open for new, incoming visitors and avoid repeated, "Am I next?" queries.
Depending on the urgency of your patients' needs, stress levels and tension can be high in a waiting room. And while many hospitals and clinics opt for separate areas for families and children, why not conversely offer a quiet space for those looking to avoid screams and cries? Outfit this quiet space décor and comfortable seating befitting a makeshift spa. After all, your patients are better off entering an exam room in a state of calm, versus panic or distress.
It's hard to avoid the simple fact that sitting in a clinic waiting room can be monotonous. That's why more and more people are skipping the dated magazine racks and entertaining themselves with their phones or other devices. As such, make it easier for your walk-ins to continue work or play to relieve some stress before their names are called. Outfit your waiting rooms with USB charging stations and powerful free wifi—perhaps include desk seating with outlets so that your busiest patients can occupy their time by getting some work done on a laptop or tablet.
How does your staff interact with patients in your waiting rooms? Often administration has phones to answers, schedules to manage and walk-ins to respond to, so they're typically stuck to their desks. But what if you had a floating receptionist who could respond to patient needs during the waiting period? Consider adding something of a "clinic concierge" who can attend to potentially nervous patients as they tap their feet and check their watches. Offer water and healthy snacks, bring them entertainment options like magazines or TV requests or combine the position with a nurse who can kickoff the onboarding process (i.e., questionnaires, symptoms, allergies, etc.) via tablet to save time in the exam room. To maintain patient privacy, your concierge can have a private room he or she can usher patients into to start patient intake before their names are called.