What Does Your Waiting Room Say About You?

By Practice Growth February 21, 2020

First impressions can make or break your practice. A bad first impression can pervade each subsequent part of a patient’s appointment and can taint a patient’s perception of your practice staff’s competence and the quality of care provided. A good first impression is just as persuasive - research shows that patients who form a positive first impression are more likely to feel satisfied with the care they’ve received, and they’re more likely to become loyal patients of the practice[1][2].

But how much control do you have over each patient’s first impression? Fortunately, the answer is “plenty.” Seamless booking procedures, friendly reception staff, and convenient practice hours all play a role in guiding your patients’ first impressions, but your waiting room is where your patients really have time to gather their thoughts and form their first impression. To a new patient, your waiting room represents your practice’s commitment to professionalism, cleanliness, and patient care. This article will serve as a primer for molding a positive first impression.

Use Positive Distraction

As the old saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.” Walk away, though, and that same pot boils in no time. Minutes can feel like hours when you’re sitting, unoccupied, waiting for something to happen, and hours may feel like minutes when you’re engaged. Keep your patients engaged with positive distraction. Free WiFi is a must, but consider taking it a step further by offering tablets loaded with patient education apps, mindfulness activities, and relaxing puzzles for complimentary use.

Create a Peaceful, Comfortable Environment

Imagine sitting in a waiting room that’s illuminated by harsh fluorescent lighting, where the temperature feels better suited for a sauna than a waiting room, and the “elevator music” is louder than your thoughts. People don’t like waiting, but waiting should be, at the very least, bearable. Install ambient - ideally dimmable - lighting. Use air conditioning and heating to keep the temperature comfortable and consistent. Background music is fine, but ensure it’s background music.

Provide Complimentary Snacks and Refreshments

Set up a snack station in your waiting room. Stock it with healthy single-serve snacks, quality coffee, and a selection of organic teas. (sorry Lipton) Offer gluten-free and vegan snacks to show patients with dietary restrictions that you’re not running a one-size-fits-all practice - you care about your patients, and you’re willing to go above and beyond to make them feel welcomed.

Check-in and Keep Patients Informed

Check-in with patients who’ve been waiting for more than ten minutes. Offer snacks and refreshments, chat about the weather, or how they’ve been since their last appointment. If you’re running behind, let them know how many people are ahead of them and how long they can expect to wait. If you’re estimating wait times, be sure to under-promise and over-deliver. It’s better to surprise a patient with a shorter-than-expected wait than a longer-than-expected wait.

Update Your Furniture and Decor

Don’t underestimate the importance of a freshly-painted wall, nice artwork, and comfortable seating. Update your space with current paint colors and interesting art, and never buy a chair for your waiting room without sitting in it first. Consider taking it a step further by displaying works from local artists, along with short biographies, on your waiting room walls. Consider installing a larger LED television that cycles through slides of interesting information, such as doctors’ biographies and accomplishments, practice history, positive patient reviews, easy-to-understand infographics, and information about additional products and services available.

Implement a “No Phone Zone” Policy for your Staff

Cell phone use should be limited to break time, and always out of patients’ sight. Cell phones should never be used in areas that are visible to patients, such as front desk and reception spaces, offices and filing rooms with open doors, or waiting rooms.

Make Cleanliness and Tidiness a Top Priority

Lastly, ensure your waiting room is always clean and tidy. A dirty waiting room is a sure way to reduce your patients’ confidence in your practice. Assign a staff member to check on the waiting room every 30 minutes. If your team is too busy, consider hiring someone to handle waiting room maintenance. Keeping your waiting room clean and tidy should be among your top priorities.



1) Sherwin HN, McKeown M, Evans MF, Bhattacharyya OK. The waiting room‘wait’. Canadian Family Physician 2013; 59: 479–81.

2) Kraus E, Torok H, Funk A. Customer Loyalty and First Impressions. Cosmetic Dermatology 2012; 25: 7.

3) The physician's office: now accrediting the environment of care. Pacing Clinical Electrophysiology 2000; 23: 128-9.

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