13 Hospital Waiting Room Ideas for a Positive Patient Experience

July 7, 2021

Waiting Room - two people sitting in a waiting room - Atmosphere TV

Nobody likes to wait. Waiting is aggravating even under normal circumstances, but it's even worse when you're anticipating news about a medical diagnosis, surgical outcome, or other potentially life-altering situation.

Hospitals increasingly recognize the importance of creating a waiting room that's pleasant, accommodating, and free from stressors. If you're looking to improve the quality of a hospital waiting room, we’re going to give you 13 ideas visitors will love.  But first, let’s talk about the importance of your waiting room’s environment.

Importance of Waiting Room for Patient Experience

After entering a hospital, the average person can wait about 15 minutes for an initial screening and another 103 minutes before moving into a room. Spending over an hour-and-a-half before treatment even begins can often lead to increased patient anxiety, frustration, and dissatisfaction.

Long wait times aren't just a problem for patients. They slow down the complete functionality of the hospital. For example, every boarded patient – which is someone occupying a bed in the Emergency Department while waiting for an inpatient bed – increases the number of patients in the waiting room by 8% per hour.

Reducing total wait times is often incredibly complicated and not always within the hospital's control. However, making the waiting room experience more tolerable is typically affordable and straightforward.

13 Hospital Waiting Room Ideas

Here are 13 easy and effective waiting room ideas you can use to improve the patient experience.

1. Entertainment

People don't go to a waiting room expecting world-class entertainment, but some type of pleasant diversion helps reduce anxiety and can make the wait seem less than it is. As the idiom says, “time flies when you’re having fun”. But what that really means, is that the more cognitively busy someone is, the less they’ll notice the time. 

However, you want to carefully select the type of entertainment you provide, as anything with heavy amounts of violence, horror, or political polarization can increase agitation.

Most hospitals prefer to use a TV streaming service made explicitly for medical waiting rooms. Programming is light, funny, and relaxing. Examples include nature scenes, sports, arts and crafts, movie trailers, and more.

2. WiFi

Over 60% of patients surveyed said free WiFi in the waiting room would help ease frustrations related to long wait times. You'll want to set up a public system separate from the internal internet access used by staff. Either post the login information for the public system in the waiting room or set it up, so no login information is required.

With free WiFi, people in the waiting room don't have to worry about the data caps on their phone plan or poor cellular service preventing them from using their phones. Instead, they can scroll through Facebook, text with friends and family, or even watch a movie.

3. Device Charging Stations

A device charging station allows members of the public to charge their personal devices. Charging stations feature USB ports and plug outlets to accommodate Apple devices, Android devices, and laptops.

Not everyone is comfortable using public charging stations, which pose potential security risks compared to a wall outlet. So, aside from charging stations, the waiting room should have plenty of traditional electrical outlets, too.

4. Kid-Friendly Entertainment / Children's Play Area

Even if the waiting room isn't in the hospital’s pediatric wing, it should still have a designated space for children to play. A children's play area entertains kids and helps prevent them from running around the rest of the waiting room.  

The play area should contain various stuffed animals, board games, books, and other kid-friendly toys. If constructing a separate room isn't feasible, put down a colorful rug and some chairs to help signify the area's general boundaries.

5. Comfortable Seats

The days of waiting rooms packed with hard, plastic chairs are long gone. Instead, you want to provide comfortable, supportive places to sit. Aside from chairs, you can also add large loveseats and couches if people want to stretch out and rest.

Avoid upholstery made from pleather or rough, carpet-like materials. Instead, use soft, breathable fabrics that don't trap heat. Also, use removable covers for easy cleaning.

6. Personal TVs

Along with TVs for the general waiting room, you may choose to also put personal TVs in pre-op waiting areas and other locations where the patient spends time alone. They can provide a much-needed distraction for someone waiting to head into surgery.

As with the TVs in the waiting room, the programming for these individual TVs should be light, engaging, and require no audio. Streaming services for medical waiting rooms provide various suitable channels, including America's Home Videos TV, Happy TV, The Bob Ross Channel, and more.

7. Refreshments

Provide food and beverages – and don't skimp on quality. Loved ones eagerly awaiting news about a patient's condition typically won't leave the hospital for a food run. They'll appreciate easy access to comfort foods such as chips, cookies, and more.

Also, make sure everyone in the waiting room can stay hydrated. A mini-fridge with complimentary water, fruit juice, and soda bottles is the preferred alternative to a simple water fountain.

The availability of food and drinks not only keeps visitors comfortable, but it benefits the staff, too. Hunger can increase feelings of anger and irritability; a condition commonly referred to as "hanger." Keeping visitors well-fed can help them stay patient during long wait times.  

8. Keep the Waiting Room Clean

The waiting room is typically the first part of the hospital the patient encounters. If it's dirty, visitors can easily assume the rest of the hospital is also lacking. However, if the waiting room is clean, patients will likely feel more comfortable about the care they're about to receive.  

Details matter. You not only want to disinfect the waiting room regularly to prevent the transmission of germs, but it should also smell clean and be free from debris.

Don't forget the bathrooms. The janitorial crew should give the waiting room bathrooms a thorough cleaning at least twice a day. Also, post a sign in each bathroom telling users to alert the front desk if any immediate cleaning is necessary.   

9. Warm Décor

Create a welcoming environment by using warm décor. It involves combining items such as comfortable furniture, soft lighting, wood accents, and other cozy touches. Essentially, you want to minimize the bright, sterile environment favoring a style that feels more like home.

Also, monitor the temperature of the waiting room. Room temperature is typically considered about 70 degrees, but you might want to keep your waiting room a few degrees cooler. If the room is too warm, people will struggle to stay alert and awake.  

10. Choose Appropriate Colors

The colors used in the waiting room can directly influence a patient's attitude towards their entire hospital visit. For medical settings, color experts recommend the following palette:

  • Light blues help increase feelings of serenity and calmness
  • Dark blues convey professionalism and seriousness
  • Splashes of green and yellow add a sense of fun and liveliness

For pediatric waiting rooms or the kid's play area in a traditional waiting room, you’ll want to increase the number of yellows, greens, and reds.

11. Mobile Alerts

No matter how much effort you put into creating an inviting hospital waiting room, some folks would rather spend their time elsewhere. With mobile alerts, patients and visitors can travel outside the hospital grounds and receive notifications when medical staff are ready to see them.

Mobile alert options include a HIPAA-compliant SMS or a hospital-created app. You can even hand out devices similar to the buzzing coasters used in restaurants.

While mobile alerts usually aren't used in emergencies because families will want to stay as close as possible, they do provide welcome freedom for non-emergencies. They're instrumental if your hospital is located within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, or other attractions.

12. Reading Material and Games

Not everybody has a mobile phone or wants to browse the web while they wait. Stock your waiting room with a variety of reading materials, such as:

  • Popular magazines
  • Crosswords
  • Sudoku
  • Mazes

Puzzles appeal to people of all ages. They provide a welcome distraction for anyone worrying about a loved one.

Don't forget to supply pens or pencils. Also, replace all puzzle books and magazines regularly. If visitors find stacks of outdated magazines or completed puzzles, they'll likely question the hospital's overall competency in more critical matters.

13. Aquariums

A large, colorful aquarium provides soothing, passive entertainment. Studies show that watching fish can improve a person's mood while also reducing their blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, aquariums are enjoyable to both adults and kids.

When installing an aquarium, always follow all applicable safety practices. Mount the back of the aquarium securely to the wall, so it can't accidentally fall forward, even if pulled. Also, make sure the top of the aquarium is beyond the reach of kids, so they can't accidentally drop anything into the water.

Conclusion

A hospital waiting room designed for comfort, convenience, and care can have a profoundly positive impact on your patients. While hospitals should strive to reduce wait times, only 25% of patients consider wait times the most critical information they seek when choosing a hospital. 

If you can improve the waiting room experience, patients are less likely to complain about the amount of time they spend in one.

Television streaming services like Atmosphere, which are specifically designed for businesses like medical waiting rooms, can truly make a positive patient experience. Include comfortable chairs, free WiFi, and a play area for kids, and these are just some of the things you can use to improve the waiting room experience. 

Implementing these strategies can help to increase overall patient satisfaction and levels of care so your hospital or emergency department can have the best reputation possible.

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