Waiting is a fact of life.
We wait to get our food in restaurants. We wait to get on planes or trains in airports and rail stations. We wait to get on rides at theme parks.
We wait for concerts or plays to start. We wait to meet with people for business appointments. And we wait to see the doctor or nurse.
Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System CEO David Feinberg, MD, wants to eliminate the hospital waiting room — especially in the ED, where patients complain about waiting the most. In a recent LinkedIn post, he wrote:
“Personally, I’d like to eliminate the waiting room and everything it represents. A waiting room means we’re provider-centered — it means the doctor is the most important person and everyone is on their time. We build up inventory for that doctor — that is, the patients sitting in the waiting room.”
Feinberg also makes the point that to be “truly patient-centered, we need to get rid of waiting rooms.”
He suggests that treatment begin immediately upon entering the ED, with current ED waiting rooms becoming more like clinical treatment spaces.
Interesting idea don’t you think?
And while I think it might be possible to get rid of the waiting room in an ED, I’m not so sure it’s possible in a treatment area in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office where there isn’t an emergency.
So, if waiting is a fact of life, the focus in healthcare should be to create comfortable waiting areas that support what patients and families do while they are waiting.
What Do People Do While Waiting?
Steelcase Health recently conducted a study where researchers observed and captured more than 75 behavior maps of patients and families waiting in a major academic medical center in the southeastern U.S. Here’s what people do while they wait:
- Interact with family – 24%
- Look at their phone or tablet – 23%
- Don’t do anything – 21%
- Watch TV – 10 %
- Interact with others – 7%
- Do paperwork – 6%
- Read a book – 3%
- Sleep – 3%
- Do computer work – 1%
- Listen to something while wearing headphones – 1%
- Talk on the phone – 1%
The most surprising thing to me is that 21% aren’t doing anything. Which means that they might be staring out the window (if there is one) — or at the person sitting across from them. And even though they aren’t watching TV, if it is on, they are hearing it in the background.
A much smaller study observational study of ambulatory, urgent care, and emergency waiting areas conducted by CDH Partners found that even if there was a TV right in front of them, most people weren’t looking at it. They were looking at their phones or tablets instead.
“Positive waiting experiences and space design are linked with the perception of quality care, a key metric for today’s healthcare organizations,” Steelcase Health stated in its report. “Well-designed waiting experiences that decrease stress and promote active engagement can help improve patient satisfaction scores both during waiting and subsequent care encounters.”
Ken Hutchenrider, President of Methodist Richardson Medical Center in Dallas, Tex., gained a new appreciation of this after opening several renovated waiting spaces in 2014. “Going into this project, waiting rooms were not something we were focusing on or we thought would be a feature, and that would receive as much praise…Our new waiting rooms are by far one of the best features of our new hospital,” he said to Steelcase Health.
Clearly, it’s time to start looking at waiting spaces as an asset rather than a necessity.
Here’s a few other resources with ideas for designing waiting spaces and improving the experience.
“Design Solutions to Improve Waiting” article by Joan Suchomel in Healthcare Design.
“Waiting, Waiting, and More Waiting – Is This Quality Care?” blog post by Susan E. Mazer.
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