Doctor Office Waiting Rooms: Make Wait Time More Pleasurable for Patients

Emily Hill - Updated  

The average wait time for patients in a doctors office increased more than a full minute from 2011 to 2012, citing an annual report from Vitals. Naturally, patients select medical providers based on education, experience, personality, and specialty area, but experiences in the waiting room do impact overall satisfaction. Creating a comfortable, functional waiting area for patients reduces stress during lengthy delays. Here are some tips on how to make waiting a more pleasurable experience for patients.

Furnishing the space


Creating smaller seating areas within a large area adds a more relaxed, home-like setting than simply arranging straight rows of chairs along three walls. Choose chairs that fit the patient population. Providing stable chairs is essential for safety and comfort. While non-porous, easy-to-clean upholstery options are best for pediatric settings, arm chairs with attached cushions are the best design for patients who have difficulty standing from a seated position.

Wall art that distracts viewers from immediate circumstances is preferable to medical charts and anatomy posters. Abstract paintings and landscape portraits are suitable for almost every practice. The overall structural design of visual art has a more profound and emotional impact on waiting patients than the details, according to a 2011 study conducted by the Center for Health Design.

Literature and visual amenities

The perception of time spent waiting is often more important than the actual waiting time. Ambient music, quality reading and visual programming in the waiting room improve perception and increase satisfaction levels.

Music masks sounds from adjacent areas and adds a sense of increased privacy for personal conversations.

Another option is to mount a television with local or national programming for patients to watch. Commercial packages from Direct TV allow physicians to target visual stimulation to their practice with children’s shows, news and adult entertainment or health programming.

Audio and visual controls should be kept in the office area. Mount equipment out of reach to young children to prevent damage from inquisitive minds and hands. The volume should be low enough not to interfere with normal conversation.

Magazines and periodicals scattered around the waiting room or end tables encourage reading. Although it's not necessary to have current issues on hand, timely and relevant information is more inviting. Include publications that appeal to a variety of interests and the patient population. Some of the most popular content areas include sports, home decorating and design magazines, fashion magazines, and newspapers, according to EBSCO, a subscription provider.

Color and Extras

Color, texture, visual and auditory stimulation, and comfort all play a vital role in creating a relaxing atmosphere in waiting areas. Decorating with a specific group in mind is critical for a specialty practice.

Family practice and pediatric clinics often add elements such as activity centers to keep younger children occupied. Geriatric patients prefer reading material with larger print, brighter lighting and a higher volume on video equipment. Anxiety-prone patients benefit from the calming effect of blues and greens, which reduce stress, over the bright yellows and oranges that evoke heightened energy and awareness.

Although the number of patients seeking medical care is rising, number of providers remains fairly constant. Creating a waiting room atmosphere that is interesting and mood elevating is one way to improve the perception of wait times and increase satisfaction levels for many patients.

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