There’s a lot you can do to design an optimal service experience within your general practice waiting room. All of the things your patients see, hear, smell and touch will affect their evaluation of your medical service quality.

Furniture

The furniture and layout of your waiting room can influence a patient’s mood and sense of confidence and care. This includes size, shapes, colours, harmony, contrast and clash.

Waiting room chairs might be a trade-off between what is comfortable (such as cushioned upholstery) and what is practical and easy to clean. Moveable furniture may enable practice managers to easily alter the room layout throughout the day.

TIP: Regularly go through the magazines and discard any that are too dog-eared or very out of date.

Layout

In patient waiting rooms, a number of ill people are congregated together. This can mean that the experience of other patients affects their own. If possible, create some privacy with screens. Large potted plants can also achieve this.

If your practice sees many families and small children, do you have an area where they can play that will minimise the disturbance to other people. Are the toys clean and quiet? Can they be wiped clean regularly?

TIP: Set-up a kids corner with things to entertain toddlers and small children.

Privacy

If the reception staff are at a desk in full view and within earshot of all the patients in the room, this may cause patients to feel a loss of privacy. If staff know there is a very ill or noisy kids inside already, they may also be able to offer an alternative space to wait. Changing the service experience so that the ‘check-in’ is done privately before entering the room.

Waiting times

An uncertain wait feels longer than a wait length that is expected. Reception staff who inform patients of wait times or position in queues help make the waiting time feel shorter.

Tip: Let each patient who comes in know how many are to go in before them.

You can read more about understanding the minds of patients who are kept waiting in another on of our blog posts.

Colours

Does your GP practice have a brand identity? Do you use a particular colour pallette?

Along the colour spectrum there are warm colours and cool colours. Warm colours are below on the left and include red, orange, yellow. Cool colours to the right include blue, green and violet.

Red Orange Yellow Blue Green Violet
Love Friendliness Sunlight Calmness Restful Shyness
Romance Openness Brightness Loyalty Peaceful Spirituality
Sex Glory Caution Aloofness Freshness Dignity
Passion Sun Cheerfulness Assurance Softness Wealth
Courage Cowardice Sadness Richness
Excitement
Vigour

Using both warm and cool colours in the proper combination can achieve a good balance between relaxation and stimulation.

Tip: Good brand design will generally use complementary (contrasting) colours. A lick of paint might change the feel of a beige or grey room to a place of comfort and warmth.

Sounds

As a healthcare provider, gentle music will be relaxing and calming for patients. Classical music such as Bach or Beethoven can result in deeper breathing and steadier heart rates, as will natural sounds like forests and waterfalls.

Commercial radio stations on the other hand often have emotionally overwrought music, that stimulates stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, with frequently violent news headlines.

Controlling the aural ambience can be achieved with a collection of CDs or a playlist that includes classical and easy listening music.

Tip: If you have a TV in the room, regularly review what is being broadcast or play health promotion material.

Scents

Body salons often use scented candles or soy wax melts (not incense sticks, which produce smoke) contribute to the customer’s sense of luxury and a feeling of being pampered.

On the other hand, the salon which smells like chemicals will have customers itching to get out!

Pleasant aromas can reinforce a pleasant experience for your patients.

A servicescape should smell the way it is expected to. A waiting room should smell clean.

Tip: Using natural cleaning agents such as eucalyptus or tea-tree oil can lift the senses as well as disinfect.

Engagement

Most general practice waiting rooms have a stack of magazines somewhere. Regular auditing of the collection will keep them looking fresh and relevant to the positive patient experience.

Tip: To deliver a pleasant wait, avoid magazines which are known to make women feel inadequate (such as gossip and beauty magazines) and focus on healthier alternatives instead. Also the ‘trashy’ impulse purchase magazines often available at checkout counters are incongruous for a professional healthcare service and are best avoid.

Tip: Offer free wifi if you can because allowing patients to read, check email, and text will enhance their sense of control while they wait.

In Summary

There are many variables including smells, sounds, colours, texture, privacy, and entertainment,  that practice managers can change to turn an average waiting room into an experience that patients will enjoy.