Waiting Rooms in Healthcare Facilities

"As healthcare facilities strive to satisfy their consumers in a competitive healthcare market, attention turns to the patient perceptions of their physical surroundings and how environmental elements affect their healthcare experiences" -Stern

The Standard Waiting Room
There are numerous reasons why people always dread the waiting room experience. Whether it be the row of chairs lined against a wall where patients sit and stare at one another or the time it takes to actually be seen by a doctor or nurse, no one looks forward to sitting in a waiting room for an extended period of time. It’s no wonder that waiting rooms have such a bad reputation with perceptions such as these, but there are several solutions that can change this connotation of what waiting room have been in the past. Architects should design waiting rooms that reflect the needs of the intended user. In an article by Maria Lorena Lehman, she discusses different ways that design can make a waiting room a good thing. Instead of thinking of the waiting room as a place where people just wait, she envisions that waiting rooms can serve other functions such as providing patients with comfort to sooth anxiety, giving patients a feeling of safety by knowing they will receive good treatment, and teaching patients to come up with good questions to ask the doctor. Views of nature, calming colors, and soothing sounds are all different techniques she suggests that can aid in making the waiting experience more enjoyable.

Waiting Rooms in Healthcare Facilities - Health Architecture Waiting Rooms in Healthcare Facilities - Health Architecture
M.S. Kaplan Pavilion

As you can see in the M.S. Kaplan Pavilion, there is no natural light or windows in the space. The seating looks very institutional and uncomfortable and there is no sense of privacy in the space. By adding windows and providing furniture that is less institutional, these spaces would instantly improve, although there are several other design techniques that could also be applied.

Innovative Design Techniques Used in Healthcare Facility Waiting Spaces:
  • Scenic views to distract the user from focusing on health related issues
  • Restful, non-institutional environments to reduce patient anxiety before a procedure, doctor’s visit, etc.
  • Lounge spaces to relieve stress
  • Therapeutic gardens create contact with nature
  • Providing niches or alcoves for people who prefer to wait in more private spaces

Waiting Room Studies Affected by Design:
Several studies show correlations between patient perception and waiting room design. Through effective design techniques used in these spaces, architects can significantly alter and improve the patient experience.

Arneill and Devlin's Study

  • Patients perception of care they receive is directly influenced by the design of waiting room environments
  • Physical attractiveness improves patient's perception of care
Powers and Bendall-Lyon's Study
  • Patients perception of care they receive is directly influenced by communication and interaction among staff
  • Attentive staff both in and out of the waiting room improved patients perception of overall care received
Becker and Poe's Study
  • Medical staff has improved mood and morale with positive design modifications in the workspaces
  • Re-painting hallways, adding murals, and rearranging furniture can all improve mood and morale
Maslow and Mintz's Study
  • Patient's perceived people better in beautiful rooms rather than ugly rooms

Waiting Room Studies Affected by Waiting Time:
There are also many studies that show correlations between patient perception and time patient's spend waiting. There are design techniques that can aid in improving wait time to improve the patient's perception of care.

Miceli and Wolosin's Study

  • Longer waiting times result in decreased overall satisfaction of patients
  • Strong communication between patient and care givers reduces negative effects from long wait times
De Man's Study
  • Actual waiting time is significantly lower than the perceived waiting time
  • If reason is provided for waiting room delay, the perception of waiting time is reduced
Dansky and Miles' Study
  • Patient satisfaction relies closely to time spent waiting for clinician
  • Informing patients of their wait time affects their overall satisfaction
  • Patients spend an average 55 minutes in waiting rooms and 17 minutes in the treatment room

Distractions in Waiting Rooms:
There are many ways to distract patients in waiting rooms that can result in improved patient waiting room experiences. Rather than decrease the wait time, which is hard to guarantee, different distractions can help to make patients seem like they are not waiting as long.
  • The most typical distraction in waiting rooms is from TV's and magazines
  • Indoor and outdoor views are not as common, but are also an effective way to positively distract patients while waiting
  • Patient education resources and refreshments can serve as distractions
  • The more variety of distractions available, the better chances of reducing anxiety and stress among patients

Overall, there is no specific design feature that contributes more or less to the patient satisfaction and quality of care. Rather, it is a combination of physical and social factors that influences how the patients perceive their waiting experience and care. Another important factor to consider is that patients are not only spending their waiting time in a waiting room, but also in the exam rooms. There are several different spaces and techniques that need to be considered when designing in order to improve the waiting experience of patients.

1. (1960). Hospitals, Clinics, and Health Centers. New York, NY: F.W. Dodge Corporation.
2. Becker, F., Douglass, S. The Ecology of the Patient Visit: Physical Attractiveness, Waiting Times, and Perceived Quality of Care.

3. Eilering, D. (2012, April 12). Waiting Room Design. Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://siuarchitecture.blogspot.com/2012/04/waiting-room-design.html
4. Rogers, T.K. (2005). It's a Waiting Room That Keeps Patients Busy. New York Times, Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/realestate/20sqft.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
5. Valins, M. (1993). Primary Health Care Centres: A review of current trends and the future demands for community-based health care facilities. Essex, England: Longman Group.
6. Verderber, S. (2010). Innovations in Hospital Architecture. New York, NY: Routledge
7. http://sensingarchitecture.com/2735/using-design-to-make-the-waiting-room-a-good-thing/