The Waiting Room: Where Suffering Begins
November 7, 2014
In the waiting rooms of clinics, hospitals, emergency departments, urgent care clinics, humanity comes together as equal. And, for every minute that one waits, one also stops engaging in anything but the wait.
Having a health issue, whatever it is, even if there is no issue, brings us to the basic truth that we are each human, vulnerable to wear and tear, that our differences have been reduced to less than 1% of our genomic makeup.
So, how do we design the waiting room experience to minimize stress, anticipation, expectation, fear of surprise (to borrow from Florence Nightingale)?
Here are some assumptions:
- No one wants to be there
- The seats are uncomfortable regardless of design
- No matter what, there is stress, fear
- That waiting is part of this appointment, treatment, is an insult to the process
- Everyone listens to everything
- Confidentiality and privacy are “afforded,” but not a given
- Whatever happens after a long wait is worse for the wait
- Being put on hold is more annoying than annoying
- Being on hold and held hostage to hospital advertising (no matter what it is) makes things exponentially worse
With these assumptions, how do we design a healing waiting experience?
First, let’s build waiting into the treatment. Have tools, such as computer stations that can help patients and families make use of the time they have. And, let them know in advance.
Second, have seating arranged for small conversations, some privacy, and coziness. Avoid the Greyhound Bus station paradigm of rows of seats facing in the same direction.
Third, do not ignore the clock. Have a limit for waiting and personally report to those who are waiting what is happening.
Fourth, provide coffee, tea, and water. This goes a long way. Food and drink are nurturing.
Many of our hospitals put The C.A.R.E. Channel on in the waiting rooms as part of the design. Commercial television is upsetting, inciting, and controversial. It is everything we do not want in a healthcare setting.
With all of this, the gestalt of the waiting experience is a combination of many changeable factors, including how people are greeted, how long the wait, the acuity of the person waiting and the person waited for, the weather, the time of day, the mood of the office staff.
Do your own research. Sit in a waiting room for an hour (at least) without your badge. What is it like? What would make it better?
Immediately make the changes that can be done, like moving the furniture around, cleaning up tables and chairs, changing the television programming. And, have your reception staff do “Waiting Room Rounds” to keep them warm, clean, and intentional.
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