While They Wait: Simple Ways to Improve a Patient’s Waiting Room Experience
Healthcare may be the most intimate, people-facing field. Beyond technical proficiency, healthcare professionals must be patient, understanding, and sympathetic on a daily basis. Of course, even the most dedicated and capable physicians have their list of patient pet-peeves, including refusal to follow prescribed treatments, demanding prescriptions for phantom ailments, or simply not showing up for their appointments. But what healthcare professionals, from pediatricians to primary care providers, should know is that patients have some simple, albeit legitimate grievances of their own.
Statistically, most people are satisfied with the quality of care they receive. They view their doctors as knowledgeable, respectful, and appropriately stern with them when they need to be. So, if most patients report positive relationships with their doctors, and quality care from them, then where do their issues lie?
In the waiting room.
The number one complaint, often times the only complaint patients have, is the amount of time they spend waiting to be seen. The day-to-day experience in a medical office is chaotic. In a perfect world, every patient would be seen precisely on time, and they would call ahead if they needed to cancel an appointment. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and a room full of anxious, fidgety, or downright agitated people is often an inevitability. But there are several, simple ways doctors can spruce up their waiting areas to improve their patients’ experiences.
The condition of someone’s home or office can say a lot about that particular person, and this is no less true about your practice, particularly the waiting area. Take a walk around out there, and ask yourself a few questions. Are the floors, or carpets always dirty? How long has that spot of water damage on the ceiling been there, and is it expanding? Are the windows regularly cleaned, and are the shades pulled back at some point to let light in? Lastly, how old are the chairs, and are they crammed next each other? Depending on your answers to these questions, a patient’s experience can be analogous to waiting in a kennel. This may sound a bit extreme, but remember: your office should be set up to demonstrate a respect for patients, up front, as well as in the back.
You are a professional, and you run a respected practice, not a club house, right? Well, yes, that is true. But what does it communicate when the reading materials in your waiting area, if there are any, are months, or literally years out of date? What is available to read should not be predominately medical magazines, but commonly read, accessible periodicals like People Magazine, or Sports Illustrated.
We’ve already touched upon the seating arrangement a bit. Chrome chairs are uncomfortable to many, and are also but cold and unsightly. Wooden, padded chairs are not only more comfortable, but grant a warmer, more comfortable feel to your office. Their arms can also be a boon to seniors who have a difficult time getting up. In addition, many physicians have also invested in a couch or two in their waiting rooms, and the response, especially from parents with infants in tow, was very positive.
Most waiting rooms have a television or two in them, somewhere. But it can create a bad atmosphere if the TV is always too loud, is not loud enough, or continuously loops medical ads or stock market trends. Is the answer to invest in several wall mounted televisions, and give each person their own remote? No. A potentially better, more cost-effective investment could be in several pairs of wireless head-phones. If people really want to watch television, they can, and those who don’t do not have to.
A Patient-Centered Experience
Some physicians have gone as far as to partition their waiting rooms into multiple areas, some with fireplaces for use in the winter, others with a “café” stocking coffee, tea, juice, and snacks (with special dietary options available). They designed their offices with their patients in mind, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It shows they care about who they treat, both on, and off the examination table. Going to these lengths can sound frivolous to some, but we are addressing the most frequent patient complaint, and ignoring it for too long can damage patient relations, retention, and your practice rating as a result.
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