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Learn 6 simple strategies to make your waiting room a joy for your patients and staff.

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Patient Experience

How to Make Your Doctors Office Waiting Room Efficient and Delightful

The time your patient spends waiting to see a doctor may seem inconsequential. After all, it’s in the exam room that conditions are diagnosed, treatments are administered, and the doctor-patient bond is formed. But in reality, your patient’s experience begins long before you start your exam. In fact, your patient begins evaluating the quality of the healthcare they receive as soon as they enter the doctor’s office waiting room!

A clean, modern, and comfortable waiting room experience is crucial to growing your practice with happy, loyal patients. Keep reading to learn simple strategies to make your waiting room a joy for your patients and staff.

How to Make Your Doctors Office Waiting Room Efficient and Delightful

1. Provide a Welcoming Check-in

Your patients start forming impressions of your practice the second they walk through the waiting room doors. Make sure their first impression is positive by designating a waiting room concierge or liaison to manage the patient waiting experience as soon as they enter the room. Many practices have begun appointing or hiring staff to optimize the patient waiting room experience, with responsibilities such as:

  • Greeting patients and answering healthcare questions
  • Helping patients with paperwork and technology
  • Cleaning and organizing the reception area and bathrooms
  • Assisting patients who have mobility issues or disabilities

Creating a designated role for patient care in the waiting room rather than leaving it to front desk staff with competing responsibilities ensures that your patients feel valued after every office visit.

2. Make Your Waiting Area Calm By Design

Your patients won’t mind waiting as much in a clean, comfortable, and calming environment. Start by focusing on your office lighting, which should be bright enough for patients to read, work on their devices, and complete paperwork, but not so blinding that it feels harsh.

You can bring the calming properties of nature indoors by letting in natural light and placing landscape and nature artwork on the walls. Patients overwhelmingly prefer art depicting natural scenes over abstract art, and one study found that nature scenes in waiting rooms even reduced restless behavior.

Last but certainly not least, prioritize the comfort of your waiting room’s seating. Provide enough legroom to allow patients to stretch out and make sure the space is accessible for patients in wheelchairs and walkers to navigate the room easily. Chairs should be padded and easy to clean, large enough for a range of body types, and equipped with armrests, which provide added comfort and give patients more control over their personal space. Armrests are also helpful for patients who need extra assistance getting in and out of chairs.

3. Keep Patients Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more critical than ever to protect your staff and patients' health by keeping your office clean and sanitary. Show that you take public safety and wellness seriously by:

  • Cleaning and sanitizing high contact areas frequently throughout the day
  • Ensuring you have enough seats to allow social distancing
  • Offering face masks and hand sanitizer in the waiting area and at the front desks
  • Providing clean pens to each patient and sanitizing after each use
  • Educating patients on COVID-19 symptoms with posters on the front door and near the front desk

You can also limit the number of patients in your waiting area by letting patients fill out forms before they arrive. Website tools like AI Smartchat allow patients to provide basic information before they arrive, can prevent double booking, and remind patients with COVID-19 symptoms to reschedule their appointments.

4. Keep Patients Occupied

Keeping your patients busy and entertained can lessen perceived wait time, which can impact patient satisfaction more than actual wait time. Consider making it easy for people to work and chat with families and friends by creating clusters of small group seatings. Many patients miss work while attending doctor's appointments, so providing work areas with tables and outlets for charging phones and laptops will help them stay productive while they wait. For patients who’d prefer not to stare at their cell phones, offer educational health materials in addition to up-to-date newspapers and magazines. Educational health materials are more than a way to keep your patient busy–they have also been correlated with increased patient satisfaction, knowledge, and self-confidence in taking care of their health.

When setting up your waiting area, don’t forget about patients with children. Devote a section of your medical office to kids with easy-to-clean toys, children’s books, and interactive toys, which have been shown to reduce anxiety in parents and children.

5. Be Transparent About Wait Times

With increasing demands on clinicians’ times, no-shows, and appointments that become more complex than anticipated, long wait times happen. But keeping a patient waiting can have profound implications for patient retention. Overall satisfaction with the quality of care, including perceptions of provider competence, has been shown to decrease with long wait times. One study revealed that 30% of patients have walked out of an appointment, and 20% have switched healthcare providers because they waited too long. Substantial wait times can also decrease patient referrals and lead to negative online reviews.

So how long is too long? On average, patients will tolerate waiting up to 20 minutes before they feel like their time is wasted.

Fortunately, it is surprisingly simple to stay in a patient’s good graces when long waits are unavoidable. Be upfront about longer wait times, provide regular updates, and apologize when long waits happen. These steps show you value your patient’s time and well-being, and 80% of patients say it means more to them than waiting room perks like free snacks, television, and wifi.

6. Utilize Technology to Improve the Patient Experience  

With the increased use of telehealth and telemedicine during the pandemic, many patients have come to expect seamless electronic scheduling, real-time support, and virtual appointments through their cell phones.

Make sure your website meets patient expectations by keeping your site modern, professional, and up-to-date. An outdated website that is difficult to navigate can turn away new patients and harm your credibility.

Artificial intelligence tools, such as AI Smartchat and AI Autodialer, can improve the patient experience before they set foot in your waiting room. These tools give patients more control of the scheduling process, expedite check-in, reduce wait times, and provide automatic reminders that limit no-shows and last-minute cancelations.

You can also use telehealth when possible via platforms like Skype or Zoom to save patient commute time, prevent overcrowded waiting rooms, and keep your patients and staff safe during the pandemic by minimizing physical contact.

Bottom line

Providing a pleasant healthcare experience can help grow your medical practice by increasing patient retention and attracting new patients with positive reviews and word-of-mouth. When it comes to earning patient loyalty, trust, and satisfaction, every touchpoint matters – from the moment a patient discovers you online to the second they leave your exam room.

DearDoc can provide you with the digital tools you need to grow your business while allowing you to focus on giving the best patient care. Contact us and let us help you improve your patient experience: