Improving the Waiting Room Experience


Adding a touch of tech, a dose of education, and plenty of creature comforts to your waiting room can make it more palatable for patients.

Fam Pract Manag. 2020 Jan-Feb;27(1):14-18.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

Waiting rooms play an important role in controlling the ebb and flow of clinical care in most medical practices. The average U.S. resident will visit an office-based physician two to three times per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 and wait an average of 18 minutes each visit.2 So it’s not surprising that the look, feel, and function of waiting areas contribute significantly to the overall patient experience.3,4 In this article we explain how to create a well-kept waiting room that increases patient satisfaction.


  • A clean, well-appointed waiting room makes a positive first impression on patients and builds trust and confidence.

  • Providing educational brochures and videos in the waiting room, along with information about resources for low-income families, can be helpful for patients.

  • Technology upgrades can allow patients to check themselves in, enter their own medical history electronically, and even leave the clinic and get alerts about when it’s time to return for their exam.


Simple things like cleanliness, updated furniture, interesting decor, plants (real or artificial), and pleasing colors can contribute to the warmth and comfort of a waiting room. Each clinic will develop its own style, but there are some universal factors that make any space more functional.

Layout. An open layout with multiple seating options easily viewed at a glance can help patients select a seat based on their own preferences. For example, if there is a TV in the room, patients may wish to select the seat that will provide the best view of it, or the seat farthest from it if they don’t want to be distracted. Patients may select a seat where there are other people to chat with, or where they will have the most privacy. Waiting rooms should have enough chairs to seat not only all the patients who are usually there at peak times but also additional people who may accompany them, such as spouses, parents, or children.

There should be enough legroom in front of each chair to allow people to stretch while others pass by. This spacing also improves accessibility for those who use a wheelchair or walker. The layout should allow patients in wheelchairs to be able to sit without having to move chairs out of the way.

Seating. Chairs should have a comfortable amount of padding with a surface that is durable and easy to clean, and they should be large enough to accommodate a range of body types. Armrests improve comfort and help patients retain personal space even when the waiting room is crowded. They can also be critical for geriatric patients or patients with orthopedic issues who need armrests to lower themselves into chairs gently and push


Dr. Collins is an assistant professor of family medicine and the director of the third-year family medicine clerkship at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J.

Dr. Coren is a professor and chair of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine.

Dr. Dinzeo is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at Rowan University College of Science and Mathematics’ Department of Psychology.

Dr. Lehrman is dean of the Rowan University William G. Rohrer College of Business.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


show all references

1. Ambulatory care use and physician office visits. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site. Jan. 19, 2017. Accessed Oct. 29, 2019....

2. Mattio R. 9th annual Vitals wait time report released. Business Wire. March 22, 2018. Accessed Oct. 29, 2019.

3. Becker F, Douglass S. The ecology of the patient visit: physical attractiveness, waiting times, and perceived quality of care. J Ambul Care Manage. 2008;31(2):128–141.

4. Blaschke S, O’Callaghan CC, Schofield P. Artificial but better than nothing: the greening of an oncology clinic waiting room. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal. 2017;10(3):51–60.

5. Moerenhout T, Borgermans L, Schol S, Vansintejan J, Van De Vijver E, Devroey D. Patient health information materials in waiting rooms of family physicians: do patients care? Patient Prefer Adherence. 2013;7:489–497.

6. Woodward-Kron R, Elliot K, Penry Williams C, Gall J. Health promotion in general practice waiting rooms: what role does a streamed TV health awareness program play? University of Melbourne; 2015. Accessed Oct. 29, 2019.

7. Sherwin HN, McKeown M, Evans MF, Bhattacharyya OK. The waiting room “wait”: from annoyance to opportunity. Can Fam Physician. 2013;59(5):479–481.

8. Henize AW, Beck AF, Klein MD, Morehous J, Kahn RS. Transformation of a pediatric primary care waiting room: creating a bridge to community resources. Matern Child Health J. 2018;22(6):779–785.

9. Bleustein C, Rothschild DB, Valen A, Valatis E, Schweitzer L, Jones R. Wait times, patient satisfaction scores, and the perception of care. Am J Manag Care. 2014;20(5):393–400.


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