Waiting Rooms in the Eye of the Patient

Let’s face it: the waiting room can be a nerve-wracking place for patients. Emotions around fear, frustration and annoyance are already running high – combine this with uncomfortable seating, piles of dated magazines, and a sterile environment, it’s no wonder people dread visiting medical clinics.

While some practice owners may not give waiting rooms much thought, the patients certainly do. Waiting rooms hold a very captive audience. What the patients see, hear and experience within this space is a subconscious indicator of the level of care they can expect. A considered and well-executed waiting room design can make all the difference in your patient’s experience.

Understanding the needs and considerations of patients and investing in these aspects within the waiting room environment will impact on patient satisfaction and the overall ROI for a practice. A satisfied patient not only acts as a powerful referral source, which is especially pertinent in the digital age, but this can also correlate directly to loyalty and repeat visitation.

While reducing the wait time for appointments may be more difficult, there are strategies that can be incorporated to turn the dreary waiting room experience into a bearable space that patients won’t mind sitting in.

Below is a breakdown of the top things patients notice in a waiting room, and what you can do to improve them.


Colour is a fundamental element of environmental design and has long been known to have both psychological and physiological effects on humans. While it can’t guarantee happy patients, it can have an impact on feelings and behaviour.  A vibrant splash of colour can go a long way in offsetting an uninviting and sterile space. Shades of blue and green are popular in medical environments due to their calming effects. On the one hand, red can be seen to be linked with injury, blood, risk, and emergency and should be avoided.  Aside from the obvious walls, there are so many other unique ways to inject colour and personality including art, chair colour, table colour, plants, lights, or flooring.


Medical Waiting RoomThese comfortable, yet stylish chairs and bold feature wall we incorporated into the Focus 32 waiting room add a delightful pop of colour and character to space.

Comfort and Convenience

First impressions count. That second first impression occurs when a patient enters the waiting room. Space should convey professionalism and neatness and a warm and welcoming feeling that helps your visitors instantly feel comfortable and at ease.

Elements of seating and spacing are key characteristics for a quality waiting room and ensuring the comfort of patients and customers. Grubby fabric seats that look like they haven’t been cleaned or cheap and uncomfortable seating can have a negative impact on the patient experience and impression of the overall practice. When deciding on the layout of the room and furniture, the guests’ comfort needs to be top of mind. A nice flow will avoid patients feeling too cramped, and encourage feelings of ease and relaxation.

While some visitors will want their own personal space, a combination of seating options can address everyone’s needs and keep all patients comfortable. Wider seats will allow for separation from strangers, room for personal belongings and adequate support. Strategically arranging the seating in groups of three also supports family groupings and social interactions.

Dividers offer a viable and affordable solution to add a new dimension of style to space. Room partitions give the flexibility and convenience of creating multiple rooms without unnecessary modification of existing fixtures and can be achieved using a number of different materials and styles.

Medical Waiting RoomsThis timber wall divider we created for the Bays Dental waiting room, blends seamlessly and offers a sense of privacy while still being able to see patients waiting.


Visitors will have their own different needs while they wait and keeping this in mind, it’s important to create a variety of spaces within a waiting room to encourage positive distraction.

While some may want to spend this downtime catching up on work or making a private phone call, others may require a space where their children can be amused. A child-friendly play area with beanbags and interactive books could provide a simple solution while a workable countertop with Wi-Fi and power outlets for charging devices could be useful for those wanting to use laptops.

Although smartphones provide personal distractions, television still remains the most common source of entertainment for patients in waiting rooms. However, those that enjoy a quieter environment need to be considered so closed captions can provide an easy solution.

Instead of providing magazines that quickly became irrelevant and dated, consider offering some thoughtfully chosen coffee-table reads or a tablet with e-books, and health apps preloaded. Something as simple as offering complimentary water or coffee will also go a long way in changing how a patient is feeling about their waiting experience.


Beyond the more obvious, conscious design choices, taking advantage of every subtle detail is important to make the room as spacious and inviting as possible as well as ensuring it connects with the efficient flow of the practice.

There is certainly no one size fits all when it comes to creating successful waiting rooms. Understanding the unique interests, needs, and considerations of your patient demographics are more important than ever. Any successful waiting room not looks aesthetically pleasing but accommodates and is designed around the model of care and demographics of the area.

The devil is always in the detail. A neat and tidy waiting room sends a message that the whole practice is committed to high standards of cleanliness. Lighting can also play a big factor in comfort. Overly bright, harsh lights tend to put people on edge; a softer, dimmer light will calm people. There is also nothing more awkward than a silent waiting room. Playing some gentle ambient music will promote a peaceful atmosphere.

Waiting rooms are all too often than not spaces that are overlooked but provide a neglected opportunity for the overall patient experience. If you would like to discuss how Optima can help you redesign and refurbish your own practice space to ensure patients feel relaxed, comfortable and cared for, contact us today.

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