What Does It Say About You?
When a patient arrives at your office, one of their first impressions is your front desk staff. However, the environment your patient walks into also creates an impression as well. What greets your new arrivals when they walk in your door?
A key element of practice management should inform you that patients will - and do - evaluate the type of care your practice will provide based upon the condition of your waiting area. Stained, torn, or outdated furniture is an indication that your concern for detail and comfort are lacking. Today there is a new movement in healthcare design that believes even your waiting area can promote better health in your patients.
It’s far more likely that a patient will use a rating review site to complain about your waiting room than to comment on your bedside manner or clinical skills. As part of your overall practice management plan, consider that important waiting area for a check-up of its own.
Musical Chairs: The seats you provide for your patients should not only be in good condition, they should also be comfortable and arranged in a way that is helpful to the flow of traffic through your office. But more than considering the check-in and exit functions, consider your patients themselves. Do they arrive alone, or accompanied by others? Do they bring children? Elderly parents? A spouse? Your seating should accommodate these variations and take into account who will be using it.
A Room With a View: Are there windows in your waiting area? Is there a nice view outside? Nature is a wonderful way to decorate your waiting area. Allow your patients to enjoy whatever is outside by leaving windows uncovered if possible. Natural light is a mood elevator, and it can save a bit of money on your overhead as well. If you don’t have windows, or if the view is less than interesting, you can incorporate nature through photos and paintings. Be sure the artwork and decor reflect the personality of your practice, too.
About Your Maid Service: Cleanliness is a critical factor in your front office area. Part of your practice management should be to maintain the whole front area as clean and clutter free as humanly possible. Patients equate clutter with a lack of concern in general - including their health and their care. Floors should be swept and vacuumed, and surfaces should be wiped down with disinfecting cleaner (especially armrests on chairs, tabletops, doorknobs, and countertops).
Reading Materials: Outdated, dog-eared magazines are a cliche of waiting rooms. Why is this the case? One reason is that visitors to your waiting area view magazines as almost a free sample. New issues of more popular periodicals are likely to be smuggled out in a purse or briefcase by a patient who didn’t have a chance to read the articles completely. Another reason for this sad state of magazines is that patients tear out articles, recipes, crossword puzzles, or samples such as cologne or perfume from the pages, or they tear out pieces of a page to jot notes when they don’t have paper handy. Small children will color or scribble on pages as a means of preventing boredom at the suggestion of their parents. All of these elements combine to leave your reading selections looking haggard. If you choose to continue offering magazines in your waiting room, be sure they are in good repair and are labeled as the property of your office. Remove old (more than three months) copies or copies that have become worn or damaged.
Another suggestion is to replace magazines with books. Books are more highly respected than magazines, and even children can understand their inherent value. You can rotate the selections every few months so that patients who return for follow-up visits have something fresh to read. In keeping with good practice management, it’s less expensive than continuing all those magazine subscriptions, and the books are more durable and environmentally friendly.
Whatever choices you make about revitalizing your waiting area, they should be made with the ideas of patient-centered design and overall office efficiency. Take a good look at the people you serve and the needs they have. Good practice management includes consideration of your patients’ care and comfort during their time in your office. Because it is such an integral part of making a first impression, your waiting room is a crucial component in your practice management strategy.
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