Friday, September 14, 2018

Optimizing Your Reception Area (Waiting Room) – Time for a Reality Check


Patient satisfaction depends on more than how well you perform as a physician. The entire “patient experience” affects how patients feel about your practice. What they see, feel, hear, and even smell in the reception area has a significant impact on how they evaluate your practice’s performance. Often referred to as “the waiting room,” patients can spend a good deal of time there. We prefer to use the term, “reception area.” A well designed area can actually shorten patients’ perceptions of passing time—and the opposite of that is likewise true.

There are several weak points in reception area environments that could be improved. Areas needing attention include:

• Waiting times. Patients who experience long waiting times have a greater tendency to be dissatisfied with the actual doctor consultation. Practice operations must be streamlined to minimize wait times, but every effort must also be made to help patients feel that time passes quickly, too. A comfortable environment is key, as is an attentive, compassionate staff.

 • Welcome companions. When calculating seating requirements, be generous enough to
accommodate patients’ companions comfortably. Companions affect patient perceptions as well, so various amenities, decorative details, and a pleasant atmosphere elevate everyone’s impressions. The he presence of anatomic pictures, illness information, and medical “educational” materials in the reception area has a tendency to elevate anxiety levels.

 • Patient confidentiality and respect. Patients have been sensitized to their right to privacy. Make every effort not only to guard personal health information, but to make sure patients feel protected. Details such as bathrooms that do not open directly into the reception area help patients feel more comfortable on a personal level. 

Regardless of your best efforts on the phone or in the exam room, patients are deeply affected by their impression of your reception area. Conducting an objective investigation at your own practice is an excellent first step to elevate patient satisfaction. Just about every medical management professional already knows this: An optimized waiting area raises patient satisfaction and can even boost practice efficiency. But sometimes we can be blinded by common wisdom. 

It’s very difficult to step back and take a fresh look at the things with which we are most familiar. We don’t even notice the worn furniture in the reception area, but new patients scowl at the “dingy décor.” Patients stare at the water-stained ceiling, the cracked bathroom tile, and the scuff marks on the reception counter. We walk right past them. The conversation between a nurse and patient at the clinic entrance bounces off our ears—but patients in the waiting room squirm to hear about Mrs. Jones’ urinary tract infection. Familiarity really does breed contempt. 

So how do we gain the objectivity we need? We suggest a three-pronged approach:

 • Ask. Forget about what you “already know” for a moment. Find out what patients really want in a reception area. Google “patient reception area” for a couple million hits with general advice and design tips. Better yet, design your own patient survey with specific questions about their impressions and preferences. Consider forming a focus group of several patients to meet one evening and discuss their impressions and experiences in your reception area. Ask them how you can improve.
 • Assign. Hire someone from outside the industry to assess your reception area. Provide an evaluation guide that directs them to look at everything from décor to cleanliness and maintenance, from staff attitudes and performance to patient confidentiality. 
• Assume the patients’ point of view. Spend some time in your reception area. Take some simple work—and go sit with your patients for about an hour. Be aware of what’s going on. Look around at the furniture, the artwork, the floor, and the windows. Listen to conversations—especially at the reception desk. You can learn a lot. 

Until you make a conscious effort to overcome familiarity, your practice will not likely make the improvements your patients want.