The new year is right around the corner, and what better time to spruce up your waiting area? Following waiting room best practices might be more important than you think. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that clean, well-presented waiting rooms resulted in patients believing they’d receive a greater quality of care. Conversely, when patients see a dirty, cluttered or poorly decorated waiting room, right or wrong, they make negative inferences about the quality of their treatment.
Ready to make sure your waiting room ticks all the boxes? Awesome, But first, let’s quickly dive into some frequently asked questions.
Why does the “waiting experience” matter so much?
Ever heard the saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”? The waiting room does just that: sets the tone and expectation for clinical service.
The way we think about a waiting room is a little like a shop’s window display. If it looks disorganized, messy, cluttered – chances are patients won’t want to walk through those doors; let alone come back.
While anxiously drumming their fingers, watching the clock, and anticipating treatment, your patients have nothing to do but sit and observe.
Hundreds of thoughts rapidly run through their head.
- “Am I in the right place?”
- “I hope they know what they’re doing.”
- “Do they treat people like me?”
Your waiting area should work to address these questions and eliminate any concerns. Anticipate your patients’ needs and work to meet their expectations.
But wait, what about the consult room?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a showstopping consult room. If you’ve got money to spend, spend it on the waiting area. When clients are in the consulting stage, they’re distracted by the treatment. Is it important to always be clean and organized in all areas of your facility? Yes. But don’t go blowing a big budget on the areas that don’t take priority.
In this checklist, we’re going to cater to all five senses. It’s not just about what patients see. What they hear, smell, touch, and possibly taste all have an effect on the atmosphere. We’re going to go from bottom to top; front to back.
Meaning, if I were to open the door to your facility, what would I see if I were to look down, look up, and then walk forward?
So, let’s visualize this journey together. Pretend you’re a patient. You walk up to the clinic and put your hand on the doorknob.
- Is the doorknob clean? Use a disinfectant spray once a day to keep germs at bay. The last thing you want is someone catching a cold at your practice.
- If there’s a window on the door, is it clean and streak-free?
- Is the door itself clean? Keep it free of mud splashes, shoe scuffs, fingerprints, and all other outside wear and tear.
- Is your door decorated with any sort of welcome signage? Perhaps a seasonal wreath? Little details like that can really make a patient feel at ease.
- A welcome mat is always a nice touch. Not only does it add an inviting feel, but it also gives patients a place to scuff off their shoes before entering your facility. That means less work for you when it comes to cleaning your floors.
*Avoid a tripping hazard by making sure it’s not too thick.
We’ve made it past the front door. So far, so good. You breathe a sigh of relief, turn the knob, and here’s what comes next.
6. Your ears perk up. Is that music you hear? Instead of switching on the radio and hoping for the best, create a special waiting room playlist via Spotify or Amazon Music.
Easy listening is always best; and sometimes, instrumental variations are all you need. This isn’t the time to blare 80’s rock.
7. You take a deep inhale. What is it you smell? Glade Plugins are an easy way to keep the room smelling fresh 24/7. Plus, you can change up the scent for each season. Definitely ensure there are no unpleasant odours – even an old banana peel can overwhelm the room.
8. Now, this is a big one. When you open the door and look around, are the other patients seated so they’re facing you? That can make for a really awkward exchange. No one wants to feel like they’re the center of attention when heading in for treatment. Instead, make sure your chairs are arranged in a way that allows those waiting to look in different directions.
9. When you look down, is the carpet clean? Is it excessively worn? That’s a huge no-no. If areas of your carpet are starting to fray, use scissors to trim the loose pieces. As simple as it sounds, a little effort goes a long way when making a first impression. Have the carpet professionally cleaned periodically, and if it’s too worn, get it replaced.
(P.S. Oftentimes, wholesalers will have leftover carpet from a large corporate job or a canceled order that they’ll sell for cheap. Just search online for wholesalers near you, or scan your local Facebook marketplace for a bargain.)
10. You shut the door. Is it so quiet in the clinic that the sound of the door closing makes a loud boom? Remember, people can be on edge in waiting rooms as it is; don’t give them a reason to jump. Make sure the door closes quietly and the “mood music” is loud enough to cover for normal clinic buzz.
11. You remove your coat and look around. Is there a place to hang it? If space allows, just a wall rack with hooks will do.
12. Coat off, shoes clean, what’s next? Time for you to head to the front desk and check-in. As you’re walking towards the receptionist, was eye contact made? Were you greeted? If the receptionist is on the phone, did you at least get a smile?
People love being acknowledged. Although this technically falls more into staff behavior and not so much waiting room presentation, it’s important to note. You can put tons of effort into the look and feel of your waiting room, but if your team forgets to use simple customer service skills, none of the aesthetics will matter.
13. Is there clear signage pointing to the reception area or information about what to do if it’s unattended? This is particularly important for new patients who are not familiar with your processes, and potentially more anxious as a result.
14. Is there a canister full of nice pens close by? Don’t force people to awkwardly reach over the counter to grab a writing utensil from the receptionist’s desk. (Or even worse, dig through their coat pockets looking for a spare.)
15. If patients need to complete longer forms, keep a clipboard handy. That way they can sit down and write in private rather than remain standing at the reception desk.
16. Your waiting room is a great place to remind people of your cancellation policy. Keep the sign and message clear, simple and friendly e.g. “Letting Us Know Helps Everyone – By canceling with at least 24 hours notice, you enable us to offer your appointment slot to other patients. Appointments canceled with less notice or not attended will be charged at the standard rate.”
17. If there’s paperwork or identification needed upon check-in, also make that clear. Leave out forms with instructions. If there needs to be a face to face check-in with the receptionist, make that known. We want to avoid the awkward hesitation that occurs when patients aren’t quite sure what to do.
18. If a practitioner is running late, encourage your receptionist to let patients know – ideally before they arrive, but if not, then at least upon arrival.
19. If you work in a high traffic clinic that accepts walk-ins (no pre-booked appointments), an electronic sign reading the average wait time would be helpful. Obviously, this is an added bonus, and not completely necessary.
Deep breath. You made it this far. The patient has arrived, checked in with the receptionist and so far the place looks clean, welcoming, and organized. What’s next?
20. You look to find a place to sit. Are the chairs cluttered with magazines, paperwork, and coats? Or, is there a clean, open comfy seat available?
21. Is the furniture itself in good condition and modern? Try to choose furniture that’s durable, easy-to-clean and ages well. Although that royal blue velvet sofa might look smashing in your waiting room, think about how annoying something like that is to clean.
22. You head to a nice, secluded seat in the corner. You plop down and start tapping your feet. What to do now? You look to your left, look to your right. Are there clean copies of the latest industry magazines? This shows your patients that you’re up-to-date on the latest developments in your industry.
23. Use a variety of other magazines (cooking, sports, business, lifestyle) that represent the diverse range of patients you see. You want to make them feel like they belong. A male patient who’s feeling uncomfortable about seeing a therapist will be relieved to see a Mens’ Health magazine. Right away they’ll know that other men come to your practice.
24. If you’re going to offer reading material (which you should), make sure it’s age-appropriate. For example, if you work in a pediatrician’s office, ensure you have reading material for all ages (and best to avoid having the latest bikini issue of Sports Illustrated for all to see).
25. Finally, when it comes to reading material, are all your magazines current and in good condition? Old, worn, or dirty reading materials sends the wrong message about your business.
(Hint: Jump online and search for deals. You can save a ton of time and money with magazine subscriptions. Then, each new edition is mailed to your practice.)
You’re flipping through a magazine, but boredom quickly overtakes you. In fact, you start to get a tickle in your stomach. Suddenly you realize – you forgot to eat breakfast.
26. You scan the room. Do you see a basket of snacks to indulge in? In the health space, it might not be appropriate to offer giant size Snickers and Cheetos. Make sure any snacks you offer align with your service. Avoid anything known to cause severe allergic reactions i.e. peanuts.
27. Remember, although homemade goodies bring an inviting touch, this usually isn’t appropriate for a place of business. Instead, offer treats that are packaged and have long expiration dates. (A plastic-wrapped muffin might sound appealing, but nothing says “ew” like the mold that quickly grows on an untouched pastry.)
28. You find a granola bar to snack on. Perfect. But, those dry crumbles have you coughing up bits and pieces. Is there a water cooler nearby? How about bottles of water? When deciding on what food and drink options to offer, keep it as low maintenance as possible.
29. You grab a water bottle and oops – there it goes dribbling down your chin. Nerves can sometimes do funny things. A box of tissues nearby can be a lifesaver.
30. No one likes holding a dirty tissue, how about a wastebasket? It goes without saying, if you’re going to have a trash can, make sure the bag is changed every night. And, don’t let this be a place where employees toss their leftover lunch.
Magazines? Check. Light snack and beverage? Check. Wastebasket? Check. Feel like really doing something extra?
31. Consider a wall-mounted TV, but make sure you control the content. Don’t leave the remote available to patients who might change the channel to something inappropriate.
32. Try running a slide presentation on your big screen. You can highlight clinic information – staff bios, company history, etc.
33. If that’s not your speed, consider running through a list of fun facts and quick tips relating to your field. This is a great way to take peoples’ minds off the passing time.
And before you know it – the door opens and your name is called. Now, if you really want to go the extra mile, let’s run through a shortlist of waiting room “indulgences.”
34. Nothing cures a waiting parent’s anxiety like a play area for their child. Now, depending on your sector, this might not be applicable. But, if it is, more than anything else, make sure the toys are safe, clean and in good condition.
35. Avoid cloth or soft toys when possible. Wood toys last longer and stay cleaner. No one wants their child squeezing a drool-ridden stuffed animal or cloth book.
36. Are the toys organized? If they’re scattered about, make sure you have a chest or shelves to house them. And, a nice sign requesting that toys be put back when the child is done playing will make your life easier.
37. Speaking of kids, if you have a snack station already – throw in some special treats for the little ones. Fruit snacks, cereal bars, juice boxes, etc. That extra effort shows parents you care.
38. Now that we’ve got the kids area under control, let’s venture into some adult “extras”. Remember, when patients are sitting in the waiting room, you get their full undivided attention. Take every opportunity to promote service upsells.
39. Like to stay connected with your patients? Now’s also a great time to promote your Facebook page, email list, and more. Make sure there’s some sort of incentive. For example, perhaps a little truffle station with a sign that says “Like our Facebook page? Take a truffle.” That’s fun, rewarding, and unique.
40. There’s nothing wrong with honest, candid feedback. Offer a suggestion box with notecards and a pen. This shows patients you really care about giving the best possible experience.
41. It doesn’t have to be all business, all the time. Put up some appealing wall decor – perhaps a quote or colorful nature scene.
42. It might seem like a pain to deal with, but don’t allow loitering. You don’t want your patients feeling intimidated as they walk up to your door. Do your best to cater to your clientele – not pedestrians.
43. Make sure your hours are clearly posted outside the clinic (including any holiday changes that might take effect).
Now, to wrap it up – here are some last-minute tips.
44. A fresh perspective is worth its weight in gold.
Seeing them every single day, we get desensitized to our own waiting rooms. When you look at something, it might be fine, but to an outsider, it could look shabby. So, have a friend with good taste pop in and give you their opinion.
45. Be careful about condescending signage.
Feeling upset about a recent patient problem? Probably not the best time to draft up some new signage. Let’s say you’ve had 3 no-shows in one day. Don’t rush to your computer and bang out a big red sign that reads “No-shows will be charged a 20% inconvenience fee on top of the original invoiced amount.”
Pasting that to the wall might offer you some sort of catharsis, but it doesn’t shine well for your clinic. It can make you look self-righteous and impatient. That tension carries over to your patients and makes for a horrible first impression.
46. Great first impressions are priceless.
Don’t go blowing hundreds of dollars on waiting room niceties you can’t afford. It’s not about how much you spend; it’s about showing how much you care and creating a remarkable experience.
47. Remember, your clients are VIPs.
They’ve chosen you; not the provider down the street. You earned their trust, so don’t do anything to break it. Making someone feel welcome, comfortable, and safe won’t go unnoticed.
48. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes.
Take notes when you go to the doctor, dentist, or any other health provider. What do you like about their waiting room? What could use to be improved?
49. Encourage your staff to contribute.
See this as a group effort. Hold monthly meetings, and collect feedback from every employee. What do people seem to enjoy? What sections need some tidying up? How is the check-in process? Much more can be achieved when you put multiple heads together and get creative.
50. Accessibility is a must.
This goes beyond just providing a ramp. Make sure there’s appropriate space in your waiting room for a wheelchair to move comfortably.
51. Test, adjust, and repeat.
Keep making small tweaks to your waiting room throughout the year. Patients will notice and appreciate your continued effort to make the waiting experience that much more enjoyable.
52. Apply this system to every part of the patient experience.
The waiting room is just one small (but impactful) step on the road to growing your practice. Don’t fail to ignore other improvements that could be made at your clinic. But don’t worry, we’re here with you every step of the way. Check back soon for more helpful tips on the Power Diary Blog.
Got any other tips? Want to weigh in on what’s worked for you? Comment below! I’d love to read your suggestions.