Waiting Rooms: Does Size Matter?

When designing a new health clinic, one of the key considerations is the size of the waiting room.

At the time we were considering the design and size of the waiting room for One for Women, I also happened to be completing the operations unit of my MBA (Master of Business Administration). So I was primed for the realisation that waiting rooms are effectively ‘stored inventory’ for medical practices. Having patients ‘queued up’ and ready to go ensures practitioners have a constant supply of inventory.

Many practices address the issue of it being ‘standard’ for patients to have to wait by making the waiting room more comfortable: free wi-fi, television screens, current magazines and refreshment stations. While these measures act as a distraction from the waiting time, it ignores the optics of making patients wait. Namely, that the time of patients is considered less valuable than that of the practitioner they’re waiting to see.

Studies have shown the average waiting time for a doctor’s appointment is 20 minutes and that 40% of patients are frustrated with their doctor prior to seeing them. Worse, increasing frustration with waiting times has led patients to actively look elsewhere for their healthcare needs with 22% of patients in one particular study actively telling friends and family not to book with a particular health care provider because of waiting times.

Not ideal.

While there will always be situations where a patient requires a longer consult time than the one that’s been booked, and while it’s not practical or possible for health practitioners to always run on time, I still feel the number of seats in a waiting room should never exceed two times the number of consult rooms (allowing for the next patient and their support person to be seated).

We put this belief into active practice when designing the One for Women waiting room. We limited it to 14 seats, (based on 7 active consulting rooms) and implemented the following policies:

  • Generous appointment lengths that allow for both the consultation and completion of necessary paperwork associated with the consult.
  • Patients to be contacted if the health practitioner is running late, advised of the delay and offered a later arrival time.
  • Provision of a voucher to the local coffee shop should the patient have arrived already or be en route.

Patients are not inventory and they should not be treated as such. Their time is as valuable as that of the health practitioners they are seeing. We should no longer be designing our waiting rooms to allow for long waits. Ultimately, we should be striving to eliminate the need for waiting rooms altogether.

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