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Improving the Waiting Room Experience

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Let’s face it: the waiting room can be a nerve-wracking place for patients. Frustration over wait times coupled with the concern or confusion patients may be experiencing due to lack of symptom or condition education can leave overall satisfaction with health care visits lacking.

Once a patient sits down with their health care practitioner, the bulk of the appointment is often spent discussing symptoms in order to narrow down a diagnosis. A standard 10 to 15 minute appointment quickly becomes insufficient to fully discuss all of a patient’s concerns. The patient may leave feeling rushed out the door, with unanswered questions and incomplete information about their diagnosis.

As a health care provider, you feel frustration, too. Already crunched for time, and meeting with complex patients who require more attention than others causes unnecessary stress on an already overtaxed system. The necessity of ploughing through a high number of appointments per day means that sacrifices of time must be made, resulting in poorer patient satisfaction and missed opportunities for doctor-patient education.

But what if you could channel waiting room time into an opportunity for patients to engage in prep work before their appointment – to best prepare themselves to get the information they need from you during their consultation? Studies show that the waiting room experience is an important driver of patient satisfaction, and that longer waiting times are associated with lower patient satisfaction. But, if patients are occupied during the wait, satisfaction levels increase significantly.[1]

The authors of “The waiting room ‘wait’: From annoyance to opportunity” (Canadian Family Physician, 2013) propose the following five tools of which physicians might make use in waiting rooms to provide patients with valuable, educational ways to occupy their time before an appointment. In so doing, patient waiting room experience and overall health care satisfaction can be greatly improved.

Validated questionnaires

Standard and disease-specific questionnaires are useful tools for patients to complete prior to their appointment. These questionnaires help to identify a patient’s specific concerns, which a physician can then make sure to address during the consultation.

Question prompt sheet

Often-times, once a patient sits down with their physician, ordered thoughts become chaotic as the race against time to squeeze in every concern commences. Waiting time provides patients with a few moments to make a list of the specific things they want to address with their physician. Having a prioritized list of concerns can help keep patients on track once they enter into the consultation, and also ensure that all of their specific questions are answered.

Patient education material

The waiting room is a natural environment for health care practitioners to provide patients with education regarding their health. Many patients are unsure of where to source education about their health, so this is the perfect opportunity to take guess-work out of the equation for them. Assigning patient-specific material for review prior to consultation creates a better informed patient, and allows for more time to discuss specifics.

Decision aids

Validated decision aids can be used as educational tools to speed up information delivery to patients in the waiting room. By providing patients with a summary of information, for example, regarding a specific type of treatment, they are better able to make informed decisions about their health care.

Waiting room manager (WRM)

Appointing a waiting room manager ensures that the above mentioned educational tools are put to best use. Acting as a liaison between patients and physicians, the WRM assists in directing patients (ie. helping to administer questionnaires, explain decision aids, distribute educational information) to facilitate a more valuable use of waiting room time.

Putting these educational tools to use in your practice provides a great opportunity to improve the patient waiting room experience and increase overall patient satisfaction. Completing a questionnaire or reading through a decision aid gives patients a sense of purpose during the wait and enables them to streamline their concerns, leading to more focused consultations with you. And implementing these tools can be as easy as downloading an app to your tablet or smartphone. Visit our website for more information.


[1] Sherwin, H. N., McKeown, M., Evans, M. F., & Bhattacharyya, O. K. (2013). The waiting room “wait”: From annoyance to opportunity. Canadian Family Physician59(5), 479–481.

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