We spend so much time in our healthcare facilities’ public waiting areas, so it should come as no surprise that one survey found that 63 percent of patients cite the most stressful thing about going to their doctor is waiting to be seen. Additionally, research has shown that 85 percent of people believe that wait time is either somewhat or very important to their overall patient experience. Doctor and hospital visits comprise some of the most anxiety-ridden events in our lives.
Who wouldn’t want a soothing, informative waiting experience? The question is, how do we better engage patients? Engaging patients in an impactful and personal way comes down to creating a waiting room experience that is a complete 180 degrees from the traditional, “medical first” impression of the past. There are several important facets to consider when curating a complete experience.
1. Examine Every Touchpoint
First impressions matter. Once we have them, they stay with us for life. Let it be known, the first impression starts long before patients step foot in the door. There are actually three gates that patients pass through – the phone, website, and finally, the front door. The experience starts the moment reception answers the phone and concludes when patients walk through the front door into the waiting room. We’re even seeing more and more hospitals install sound systems in their parking lots. Every touchpoint matters from start to finish.
2. Transport Patients
The goal? Take people away from their current state and engage them for as briefly as 10 seconds. What’s their first impression when they sit down? If the airwaves are drowned out by Days of Our Lives and The Price is Right, there’s a problem. If looking at Sports Illustrated versus Home and Garden magazines, you get a clear picture of who’s dictating the waiting room experience. Does Golfers Digest appeal to the pint-sized set? Probably not. Regardless of who’s ordering the weeklies, the real question is – do they appeal to the clientele?
3. Set The Mood
It boils down to inspiration. Do you want to inspire, educate, entertain or inform? Perhaps you’re aiming for a combination. Once you’ve determined your desired mood and intent, you can start mapping your approach. Graphic designers can create better experiences on digital screens from the underwater and enchanted garden theme to space and jungle forest views, the only thing limiting people is their imagination.
4. Observe Visiting Patterns
The waiting room experience has become more personal than ever. No longer are we seeing a broad-strokes approach. Hospitals know who’s visiting weeks in advance. As such, we can match the mood with the ebb and flow of foot traffic. If cancer patients are seen on Mondays, clinics can curate their experience differently than patients on Tuesdays. Elderly clientele are more likely to schedule their appointments early in the morning, while school kids tend to target mid-afternoon. Visiting patterns must be taken into consideration when curating your experience.
5. Know Your Demographic
If you’re unsure of your point of view, ask yourself a few basic questions. Is your office located in the city or suburbs? What is your demographic? Active urbanites between 25-50 years old? Elderly podiatry patients or young pediatrics? Is your office geared to families? Are your patients young, hip Millennials? All of these differentiators matter when creating waiting room experiences. Once you hone in on these filters, the optimal patient experience you want to create will begin to reveal itself. Some hospitals have installed 50 or more screens in their public areas, going as far as installing digital screens in the ceilings of exam rooms and adding instrumental music with nature sounds, and scents that soothe and relax the mind. The options are endless.
6. Stay Current on Trends
Hospital administrators don’t want to further agitate patients who are already experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. As such, we’re seeing a trend toward musical selections devoid of vocals. Whether Jazz, Classical, or Instrumental influences, music needs to elevate the experience. Think: calming, relaxing melodies that soothe.
It comes down to creating a sense of intimacy with each visit. Patients want to feel like they’re being uniquely targeted. Balancing the stress of a health crisis with the feeling of warmth and intimacy is more important now than ever before. Oncology outposts, especially. Hospitals must do everything in their power to ease an already uncomfortable visit.
Ultimately, the waiting room is a reflection of a facility’s care for their patients. First impressions matter. They remain for life. The experiences that clinics create must be memorable enough to linger long after the co-pay. Patients’ opinions begin taking a clear form in the waiting room, not when they’re sitting on the table being inspected by the doctor. You’ve got a few minutes to make an impression, so better make it count.
About Jaime Bettencourt
Jaime Bettencourt is the SVP of North American Business Development at Mood Media, a leading in-store media solutions company dedicated to elevating the Customer Experience. Jaime is an accomplished senior-level sales & marketing leader with a proven ability to achieve double-digit revenue growth, recognized for designing world-class customer experiences for leading lifestyle and retail brands.