By: Benna Crawford
Take the "wait" out of waiting with a welcoming reception area designed for comfort, convenience and stress-reduction. Design your first impression to put visitors at home and make it easy for them to comply with office procedures. Everything from the material in the chair cushions to the art on your walls affects your patients' evaluation of the care they receive.
The center of attention in any waiting room is the reception desk. Make yours elegant, welcoming and efficient so both staff and visitors enjoy stress-free, cordial encounters. The style of the desk reflects or sets the decor for the rest of the space. A double marquee style helps busy offices manage higher patient flow. Curved desks are less institutional than straight counters – warm wood veneers in walnut, cherry or maple look rich and stand up to some abuse. Consider counters that are low enough to accommodate wheelchair patients and allow people to sign in or complete paperwork easily. With a tall, pedestal-style desk, provide an extension at a lower, more accessible height.
Waiting is far less irritating when you've snagged a comfortable chair and are not crammed in next to a sneezing, sniffling stranger. Skip the sofa – too intimate – and arrange chairs in groups with enough space for a sense of privacy – no chairs lined up around the walls. Provide a variety of seating options, including a few child-sized chairs, for your patients so that they can all feel comfortable while they wait. Cover cushions in nontoxic, non-vinyl, non-woven fabrics that are easy to clean.
Tables in various heights – for magazines, lamps and coffee-table books, kids' toys and games – can be matched with wood furniture or coordinated with wall or upholstery colors. Let your main furnishings – the reception desk and the seating – dictate table design. Tables for public spaces like waiting areas come in a large variety of designs and shapes, and can offer storage options to help hide unused kids’ toys and magazines. Position tables near power outlets and offer Wi-Fi, and time will fly for those who wait.
Add some color to the waiting room with artwork for the walls. Choose from paintings by local or favorite artists, framed photographs of regional landscapes, humorous illustrations or whatever best suits your office’s personality. If you have extra wall space, add a magazine display to neatly hold some light reading for patients while they wait.
Lighting creates the ambiance that determines mood – give your patients as much daylight as possible to increase good feelings and reinforce natural circadian rhythms. Windows that overlook an alley or unattractive streetscape still let in light when you cover them in translucent film. Shades and blinds adjust to cut glare throughout the day. Use lighting to compensate for an interior, windowless waiting room. Opt for LED lamps and full-spectrum fluorescents that come closer to mimicking daylight. Soft, warm light is homey, but balance that with bright task lighting so it's easy to read or fill out forms.
Green plants clean the air, produce oxygen, increase humidity, raise the energy in a room, add color and texture, and reduce stress. Choose low-maintenance plants adapted to your climate or plants that thrive under artificial light for windowless rooms, or go artificial. An artificial bamboo cluster, palm or ficus tree fills an empty corner with lively energy but won't aggravate patients with potential allergies. And, if live plant care isn't on the agenda, researchers have discovered that photographs of plants reduce anxiety in patients in hospital waiting rooms.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in "USA Today," the "San Francisco Chronicle," "The New York Times," and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has worked in executive management for global advertising and marketing firms, in finance industry regulation, as an educator, and as head of her own successful small business for 15 years.
References Medical Economics: Starting a Practice 5-6 Months Out: Office Design and Supplies Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases March 2006: Hand Sanitizer Alert