The waiting space in any healthcare facility serves many purposes – it establishes a first impression, it offers a place to rest and recharge and it offers patients the chance to connect with caregivers and others. Waiting spaces are valuable real estate and are often busy, so planners and facility managers need to determine how to get the best utilization from the space they have. There is often a temptation to cram in rows of ganged seating, with the mindset that more seats equals more use. In fact, this approach often leads to the opposite result! Why?
Studies of waiting room utilization have shown that some seats in busy waiting area are almost always filled and others are left completely empty. In some cases, people will stand rather than choose one of the “unpopular” seats. So – what makes a seat popular?
Placement – studies show that patients prefer seats with a direct line of sight to either the reception desk or doorway to treatment spaces (or both). Patients want to ensure they aren’t “forgotten” and those with visual or auditory limitations want to ensure they aren’t missed.
Proximity – this varies by practice and patient population, but studies show patients are more likely to choose seating near amenities. That might mean a charging station, a coffee bar, in view of a television or in pediatric spaces, the children’s play area.
Personal Space – generally, patients will not choose to sit right next to a stranger unless no other options are available (and will sometimes choose to stand!). Studies show that even when seating is arranged in back-to-back rows, people will space themselves so they aren’t directly behind someone. Personal space, especially when patients may feel especially vulnerable due to illness, is a very important consideration.
Accessibility – long rows of ganged seating are often not comfortable or accessible for those with physical limitations. Those who are mobility impaired, obese or pregnant often have trouble getting in and out of standard chairs or down crowded aisles. Dedicated wheelchair “parking” is something easy to overlook in designing a space, but critically important.
Here are some design solutions to ensure that your waiting room space is safe and comfortable for patients while ensuring that seats aren’t wasted:
Use a mix of seating styles – single chairs, loveseats for those that arrive with a companion, hip chairs which offer a higher seat for those with mobility issues, bariatric seating for larger patients and perhaps a round table with chairs for families. Benches near entry doors create a safe place to wait for transportation or a companion. Seat cushions should be firm and most chairs should have arms to help patients exit the seat easily. The key is to ensure that your patient population is seated comfortably, safely and in a way that makes them feel welcomed and soothed.
Plan for wheelchairs and walkers – ensure that there are spaces that wheelchairs can be placed safely so that aisles and patient flow is not impeded. Aisles should be wide enough between seating rows that a person with a walker can pass safely.
Offer personal space buffers – floor space is precious, so using a wider arm profile on a lounge chair, or placing a 12” wide table between two seats gives people their own space but doesn’t eat up a lot of room. Bariatric chairs, or those with a wider seat (24”+) also help create personal space bubbles and accommodate larger patients safely.
Help patients stay connected – offering seating with integrated power allows patients to use their own devices while waiting. Small workspaces provide a place to fill out paperwork comfortably, or to catch up on work.
Keep sight lines in mind – when establishing your design, ensure that most seats have a clear line of sight to the reception desk, treatment areas and the restroom.