Improve the Waiting Experience for Your Patients
When a patient arrives at your medical practice, they will be experiencing a range of emotions. Their perception of your practice and your brand starts from the moment they enter the waiting room, if not before. Medical design and fit-out company Evoke Projects explains how you can gain a competitive advantage with the best waiting environment.
Emotions at play
Typical emotions felt by patients in the waiting area are:
- Anxiety – feeling nervous or worried about ailments, procedures or test results
- Frustration – if they are not seen at their scheduled time
- Boredom – if there are no distractions in the waiting area, particularly if there is a sign asking people not to use a smartphone.
The psychology of waiting
Business management expert David Maister explains that anxiety levels while waiting to get started on the purpose of a visit are high (even in non-medical settings such as queueing in a store or waiting to be served in a restaurant).1 This natural waiting anxiety is compounded by anxiety about health matters.
Giving advice on relieving this anxiety, Maister explained about a medical practice that introduced a triage system, whereby all patients were first met by a nurse who recorded the patient’s name and symptoms and decided whether or not the patient could be treated by a registered nurse practitioner or should be seen by a doctor. Even though the addition of this step in the process had no impact on the time it took to see a medical service provider, surveys showed that patients were pleased with reduced waiting times. The point, of course, was that they felt they had been ‘entered into’ the system.
Maister put forward a ‘satisfaction with waiting’ formula: S=P-E (Satisfaction = Perception – Expectation). Patients have an expectation. If their perception of what takes place during the appointment exceeds this expectation, they are satisfied. In the example above, the perception of how long it took to ‘get started’ improved. So what steps can you take to improve patient satisfaction?
Managing perception and expectation through clever medical design
Both perception and expectation are subjective and personal, but clever healthcare design strategies can increase satisfaction.
Patients have an expectation about comfort, safety, accessibility and sanitisation. The perception that your medical design and fit-out meets or exceeds their expectation is your aim here. In private practice, branding is important. The medical design can reinforce your brand image and make a lasting impression on patients. Bear in mind that a patient’s experience of their healthcare may start before they step inside your practice.
- When selecting a location for your medical practice, ensure there is adequate parking close to the entrance or that public transport is close by.
- Install accessible ramps or lifts from the car park and internally within the medical fit-out.
- In the waiting area, comfortable seating, appropriate lighting and temperature control will make a good first impression. Seating does not have to be hard and uncomfortable to be hygienic. There are many medical-grade lounge furniture options. Lighting may need to be bright in treatment rooms, but it can be softer in waiting areas.
- The cleanliness and overall appearance of the medical fit-out will impact a patient’s perception of the quality of care they will receive. This also feeds into the trust that people have in your staff and your brand.
- Distractions such as a television, games console, books or magazines will make time pass more quickly. Well, not literally, but as David Maister says, it’s all about perception.
- If you have curtained areas for treatments, locate them away from the waiting area. Overheard medical conversations will add to the stress of the patient being treated and those listening. Similarly, ensure that treatment rooms close to the waiting areas have good acoustic damping.
- Biophilic design elements in the medical fit-out help relieve anxiety. Consider natural light, plants, living walls and water features in your medical fit-out. Display sculptures or hang artwork of nature, flora or fauna. Use nature-inspired colours for feature walls.
Communication and technology have a vital role to play
As well as a welcoming medical fit-out with appropriate distractions, your best friends are communication and technology. As David Maister says:
“Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits.”
“Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits.”
When a patient arrives, explain if there are any unusual delays or how many people are ahead of them. If there has been an emergency, apologise and advise of the delay.
Smartphone apps that allow patients to check in online and see if doctors are running late help to avoid unnecessary waiting. Think how much more relaxed the patient will be if, instead of an extra half hour in the waiting room, they had time for a calming tea at home!
Please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692 to discuss medical design and fit-out strategies that will improve your patients’ waiting experience.