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Is your waiting room costing you money?

How would patients rate your medical practice’s reception area? Is it cold and clinical, or warm and welcoming?

The waiting room is where new patients form early impressions of your practice – and, like it or not, these impressions influence their perception of the medical care they receive.

Patient experience is a primary reason medical practices are investing in office redesign. But it’s not merely for the purpose of goodwill. Changes in healthcare, which impact revenue, have medical practices looking at every aspect of the business, including patient experience, with an understanding of how it affects the bottom line.

Indeed, like other aspects of healthcare, the patient waiting room is changing.

Conveying a message

“These spaces are looking to not be cold, uncomfortable, and clinical,” says Michelle Granelli, senior design director for Urban Chalet, an interior, landscape, and architectural design firm.

There are a lot of different components, she tells Medical Office Manager, including seating in the waiting area. In addition to giving patients “a feeling of ease,” the objective for a medical office, according to Granelli, is “creating an impression about who they are as a practice.”

To this end, she says first impressions count and should really speak to what a practice is doing.

As an example, she cites Urban Chalet client JumpstartMD, a weight loss clinic. The goal of the practice is to make patients commit to lifestyle changes, which include becoming more active.

To convey this message, the patient waiting room at JumpstartMD relies on bright colors and furniture with energetic lines, along with artwork that has a sense of movement.

By contrast, another of the firm’s clients, Pacific Fertility Center, wants patients to feel calm and comfortable, and it wishes to convey a level of sensitivity. At the same time, the practice wants to project an image of a world-class medical space and groundbreaking procedures.

A cooler color palette that includes soft grays and light blues creates a serene environment, while a certain quality to the furnishings and elements of layout and design speak to top of the line.

Your practice’s approach

Granelli acknowledges that creating an environment that appeals to everyone can be challenging. “A patient base can be very diverse for a practice; age range and demographics can be wide,” she says.

There are ways around this, however. A cutting-edge look, for example, can be balanced out with different pieces.

At the same time, patient base isn’t the only factor. Location may partially dictate style. “Tastes do vary across the country,” Granelli says.

But it’s not only city; neighborhood and building come into play. Ground floor retail space is different from a Class A office building where the practice is on the 35th floor, Granelli explains.

And then there are the personal styles of the board or practice owners that may have to be considered or a situation that involves design by committee. Neither is recommended.

It’s important to make sure all needs are considered, but the projects that run most successfully have a single, well-informed point of contact who works internally and communicates with the designer, Granelli says.

Trends and results

When it comes to waiting room design, the current trend is “residential feel,” which is just as it sounds – it looks and feels like a room in a home. Colors, fabrics, furniture design, and placement within the space all contribute to the desired result.

Increasingly, medical practices are creating warm and welcoming, residential-like waiting rooms. Granelli recognizes that redesign requires a financial investment, but she says it lets patients know they’re important.

In addition, practices are reconfiguring back office space to ensure that staff work areas are comfortable and functional. Design elements like ergonomic workstations allow practices to convey the message that not only patients are important.

The takeaway for medical practices is that interior design has visible as well as less obvious paybacks.

“It’s a huge tool to give patients and staff the knowledge that they matter,” Granelli says.

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