Improving the doctor's waiting room experience.

I’ve been doing research on the doctor’s waiting room for my thesis.

What alternative ways/methods can there be to improve the patient’s experience and at the same time make the process more efficient?

Please help me by answering this short survey:

I used to work at Best Buy in the computer repair area years ago. Long lines waiting for pickup/drop off repairs were common. I can see a drastic stress/attitude change when dealing with customers if I have the TV behind me on or off while people are in line.

Comfort is obviously important, nothing like having minutes seem like hours in an uncomfortable and unattractive space. Perhaps there are interior design techniques to make people feel more relaxed?

Having something to do is important too. Web surfing is seems fairly universal for the modern person… maybe there could be netbooks for checkout at the reception? With some anti theft system in place? Good selection of magazines is key too, nothing like a massive selection of modern mother for a single 30 yo guy

Maybe some kind of medical learning could be part of it too… so you can get educated about your problem even before the doctor arrives? even if it’s a self-given blood pressure station with something I can learn about being healthier… like the exploratorium/Discovery place for adults

good luck, it’s an interesting problem

One small clinic near my place has a huge stockpile of manga.

I like open spaces between benches\seats with something to lean against, especially when I’m sick/dizzy/tired.

better than improving the waiting room experience, why not focus on removing the wait? Something as simple as calling or text messaging you on your cell when they are ready so you can spend your time elsewhere I would imagine would greatly improve patient satisfaction.

There is a local restaurant here that doesn’t take reservations and is normally quite full, but when you get in to get a table and they have non they take you cell number, direct you across the street to a bar to have a few drink and call you when the table is ready. Not earth breaking I know, but when I first went there it seemed like a totally 180 to the normal “wait around impatiently” routine in most restaurants that are full.

Perhaps (location of course depending) could do the same and add in a bonus. They could text you if they are behind so you don’t need to leave the house only to find an hour wait, and even if so something unexpected happens refer you to some local coffee or book shop within walking distance with a coupon for x% to use while you are waiting. When they are ready, they call you and you drop by to be served immediately.

Sometimes solving the problem is all about thinking outside of what the problem really is. In this case, I think that is the real goal. Making the waiting room experience better is only addressing the symptom, but eliminating the wait (or the awareness of it) is the real solution to the real problem. Nobody likes to wait.


Bingo, my first thought as well! Remove the wait, you remove the waiting room, less square footage to rent, chairs to buy, etc…

improving the wait could be a tough challenge for a couple of reasons.

If the patients arrive at irregular times and/or the doctor takes unpredictable time to work with each patient, it could throw a wrench in a good organizational system…

I don’t think that eliminating the wait is a viable solution … when was the last time your doctor was on time for your appointment even after being admitted to an examination room; I know I have sat for thirty minutes or more. Calling before I leave for my appointment is something I’ve done for years. On occasion, it has saved some time. Texting me that my appointment is running late won’t help me much … I don’t use my cellphone as a message board, and the elderly do not use cellphones, it’s a generational thing, and it’s an additional load on medical staff. And the few times that I have been really sick, the last thing I want to do is shuffle around “killing time”, I just want to vegetate until I can be the Doc.

In the case of the elderly, being shuffled off to an alternate waiting area will not solve anything. Case in point is my 87 year old mother-in-law; easily confused by changes (lunch date time with her daughters, shopping trip details, etc.) and generally irritated when things do not go according to the plan … so I know that showing up at her doctor’s office and then being referred to a coffee shop (which she does not drink) across the street would not be a pleasant experience for her, and she has one of her daughters to accompany her. Now consider the plight of the elderly who live in care facilities and are chauffeured to their appointments by/with an attendant. Consider those who are physically challenged by walking… …

Improving the waiting environment is probably the best we should* expect; as mentioned, educational and recreational reading ((printed and electronic) a three-year old magazine does not qualify) comfortable seating (number one consideration), efficient ventilation (how many time have you sat in a waiting room with a “cougher” next to you), pleasant colors (no cool lime greens, please), low background music (NO TELEVISION), and beyond the control of any designer, the office staff admitting you. I would like to see a separate “distraction room” for children.

An old military adage: “Hurry up and wait”. Nobody likes to wait … waiting here, or waiting there; waiting is waiting … it is inevitable, at least until there are a lot more doctors per patient … and that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

  • And since all of this “waiting abatement” is provided by our doctors, we should expect our bill to reflect it.

All good points.

One things I’d suggest that would be super helpful and easy to implement is some sort of display that showed you how long the wait was. I can’t remember where I read about it, but there were some psychological experiments done somewhere that showed people would wait X amount longer and be much happier to do so if they only knew how long the wait was. The unexpected “am i next? is it going to be 5 minutes or 30?” is what really gets to people. could be a simple display with your first name and the time expected, or even some sort of more private device that they gave to you that had the wait time and maybe other interactive features if you wanted.


Your survey completely lacks any demographic information. Is this for pediatrics or oncology? I would think a one-size-fits-all approach would fail miserably. You need to focus on patient age, doc specialty, type of visit (routine or non-routine) and frequency of visit (first-timer, regular,etc).

That said, the two most important things for me would be access to pertinent information and safety. The information is all about why I am waiting. That is obviously because there are people in the cue in front of me. A number like you get at the meat counter may be a bit too impersonal, but I would like to know how many other people the doc needs to see before me. I should also be reminded that the time needed per patient varies for many obvious reasons. I expect to wait, but giving a concrete reason why is important.

The safety issue is about sitting next to someone infectious. A quarantine is too harsh but some sort of segregation/divider would ease my mind.

Other stuff like TVs, Internet, magazines, etc. are nice but secondary. Personally, I never touch the magazines and wouldn’t touch a keyboard.

As for eliminating the wait, it’s possible but you will have to change the doc’s business model. If you tell a patient to come back in 15 minutes and actually comes back in 20, the doc is losing productive time waiting for the late patient. At that point, you might as well ask the doc to schedule less patients per hour. You get the same result.

Lmo- spoken like a true professional. Thank you for bringing perspective of the rest of the population into this discussion.

Personally, I don’t mind waiting. I’m a patient person. If I’m at the doctor for something, I’m probably there because I planned on it, or if I didn’t I’m probably not doing anything else until I get it fixed (emergency room, sickness, etc.) Now if I’m bringing my sick kid in, that’s another story. I want service and I want it now.

I think a lot of time could be saved in scheduling, staffing, and room availability. If you make an appointment, you should at least be seen by triage within 10 minutes of your check-in at the counter. Generally, you’re supposed to show up early for appointments, and many people don’t. Offices only have so many triage nurses to take vitals, etc., so when you show up late (or even right on time) the system is backed up.

Speaking of systems, they could offset appointments by 5 minutes. Most of the time they all start on 15 minute blocks, with multiple people at one block. By staggering they appointment times, it gives the illusion of the line moving quickly because people show up at a staggered rates.

Staffing 1 or 2 extra nurses to process labs, paperwork, and do check in vitals would be helpful, but ultimately more expensive. Adding rooms so that you can move more people out of the waiting room would be nice, but again would be more expensive.

… [a] display that showed you how long the wait was. I can’t remember where I read about it, but there were some psychological experiments done somewhere that showed people would wait X amount longer and be much happier to do so if they only knew how long the wait was.

bingo… … allowing us to decide for ourselves if our time is worth the wait.

As in when you call a company and are told, “All of our representatives are currently helping other customers. There are six other callers ahead of you, the expected waiting time is twenty-one minutes.” I have run into a few companies where you can leave your telephone number (essentially holding your place in line), and they will call you back.

During evening dinner hour crush, the “[u]Old Custom’s House[/u]” restaurant in Avila Beach, California provides it’s guests with an electronic pager, which allows the guest to spent their waiting time perusing the many shops along the beach walk until their table is ready … a stellar service in my mind. Now if they would just associate a discount on drinks, with the possession of the CH pager, at the other establishments along the board walk it would be perfect solution to waiting.

But we are still “waiting”, and when we are in physical discomfort time moves very slowly indeed.

I was just listening to a CBC radio show up here in Canada called Tapestry and they were talking to a Dr Esther Sternberg who wrote a book called Healing Spaces: The science of Place and Well-Being. I thought it would be a great addition to this discussion. She quotes a whole bunch of studies that first started in the 1980’s about who the environment can contribute to the healing process. A guy called Robert Uldrich (not sure on the spelling) did a study of people on a ward in hospital and split them in 2 groups, those who had a view of a tree grove and those who only had a view of a brick wall. On average those who had a tree view healed one day earlier than the others and required less pain medication.

Sounds like some fascinating stuff and in a way can quantify environmental design to the healing process which means peoples quality of life can also be quantified if their environment is designed for the better… not necessarily sick people.

Anyway, I thought it translated well to the discussion… having a waiting room that actually had quantifiable healing properties while you waited… think of a large windowed area with animated vistas of the countryside.

Just a thought