How are waiting rooms tied to patient experience? 5 key findings

Hospital waiting rooms are rarely appealing.

Not only do they lack privacy, but they're also often over-crowded and physically uncomfortable. Because these critical spaces are patients' first interaction with hospitals, for many, the hospital waiting room can ruin the entire patient experience.

Michelle Ossmann, RN, PhD, director of healthcare environments at Steelcase Health, set out to change that. By conducting research at numerous academic medical centers in the southeastern United States, she and a team of researchers found undeniable links between waiting spaces and the overall patient experience.

Here are five key findings from Steelcase Health's research.

1. Researchers found four key mistakes in traditional waiting room design. These errors include a lack of enough chairs with direct sight lines to information sources; a lack of space to place personal items; not enough space to be separate from strangers but close to family members; and chair configurations for large groups rather than smaller, more intimate groups that encourage patients to interact with their family members.

2. Steelcase researchers created a more engaging waiting room space in one of its partner's clinics. This specialty clinic sees 27,000 patients annually and an average of 100 patients and family members per day. Wait times are between 30 minutes and several hours in length. To make a better waiting space, Steelcase Health added lounge seating, created a coffee space with a round table and added plugs in seating areas for easy technology charging.

3. After the new waiting room was implemented, patients had new places to put their personal items. Prior to the new waiting space, 20 percent of occupied chairs held personal items or drinks. After the change, only 16 percent of occupied chairs held personal items or drinks. Steelcase Health's changes to the waiting room gave patients different places — that weren't chairs — to put their personal items.

4. Steelcase Health noticed differences in where patients chose to sit. Before, occupancy of sideways facing seats was 57 percent higher than window facing seats and 32 percent higher than desk-facing seats. Following the change, occupancy of sideways facing seats was 39 percent higher than window facing seats and 22 percent higher than desk facing seats.

5. The addition of charging stations helped patients feel comfortable by ensuring continued access to their technology devices. While only 0.4 percent of patients wore headphones before the waiting rooms were revamped, approximately 1 percent of patients wore headphones after the changes were made.

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