Turn Your Waiting Room into a Healing Room

The patient experience, and in many respects the healing process, begins in the medical practice's waiting room. Are the walls bland, the chairs uncomfortable, or the magazines outdated?

It has often been said that to really get to know someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Where the patient experience is concerned, physicians can get to know what that experience is like just by sitting in their waiting room chairs. After doing so, ask yourself, would you like to sit there for one hour?

The patient experience, and in many respects the healing process, begins in the medical practice’s waiting room. Are the walls bland, the chairs uncomfortable, or the magazines outdated? Answering “yes” to any of the above means you could be getting off on the wrong foot with your patients.

“We want to make sure that patient satisfaction is above standard,” says Michael Perry, MD, medical director at the Laser Spine Institute. “It not only helps their perception of our company as a whole, but when people have a positive attitude coming in, that can translate into a better surgical outcome.”

Ask the patient

How do you begin to convert your waiting room into a healing room? It’s simple, Perry says. Just ask the patients. What the physicians have in mind and what the patients want could be very different.

“We see people who are in pain, so what’s going to make them more comfortable and more at ease is probably related to resolving the pain,” Perry says. “Or keeping them involved in doing something to take their mind off their pain. And each practice is different, so it’s important to get that feedback from your patients.”

Everything the Laser Spine Institute has done with its waiting room — which it refers to as its patient café — is centered on the patients and their families. For example, there are internet stations that are free where patients can log on, email their friends and family, or check their mail. There are large-screen TVs throughout the café, as well as zero gravity chairs, which are very comfortable while waiting, especially for people who have a neck or back problem. The institute also provides a catering service.

“We cater breakfast and lunch not only to the patients, but also their family and friends who are accompanying them,” Perry says. “We also have a baby grand piano in the waiting area with an automatic player. Of course, we have all the latest journals or magazines. And we also have a concierge service, which you’re not going to see in a lot of medical practices. We have people that are there just to make sure that any needs the patients have can be carried out. It’s almost like a Ritz-Carlton-type feel.”

Educate patients

At North Medical Family Physicians in Liverpool, N.Y., the use of an interactive digital display from PatientPoint features easy-to-understand patient education content that, among other things, helps patients more effectively follow their treatment plans.

Betsy Bedigian, director of communications for the practice, says it’s important to engage patients. The practice stopped using the TV in the waiting room just to show news that might not be relevant to patients.

“We had a lot of messages that we wanted to share with [patients] that were personal to the practice, whether it’s a new health seminar we’re offering or extended hours,” Bedigian says. “You walk out into the waiting room, see patients watching the screen, and their takeaway is, ‘Oh, I have to remember to ask my doctor about this,’ because we’ve put something on the screen.”

In addition, the waiting room has access to WiFi so patients can work on their laptops. However, patients are discouraged from having their cell phones ring or from speaking too loudly on their phones so that a level of calm and quiet can be maintained.

Break down barriers

At Laser Spine Institute, surgeons and physicians can often be found in the lobby, clinic and even in the waiting rooms interacting with patients. Perry says that’s important because it helps break down the barriers between patients and medical staff.

“In traditional medicine you have the nurse’s station, so you have that barrier there,” Perry says. “Or the doctors have their offices and don’t see the patient outside the office. If you’re able to just meet and greet people, follow your patients not only in the clinical setting but also in the social setting, I think that adds to the whole experience. I think it adds to the patient-doctor relationship. It’s the kind of atmosphere that we strive for. And I think those relationships and breaking down those barriers are extremely important.”