The waiting room in a healthcare facility serves many purposes—it establishes a first impression, offers a place to rest and recharge, and provides patients the chance to connect with caregivers and others. Waiting rooms are valuable, busy real estate, so planners and facility managers need to determine how to best use the space.
You may be tempted to cram in rows of ganged seating with the mindset that more seats equal more use, but this approach often leads to the opposite result. Why? Studies of waiting room utilization have shown that some seats in a busy waiting area are almost always filled while others are often left empty. In some cases, people will stand rather than choose one of the “unpopular” seats. What makes a seat popular?
Placement: Studies show 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, coffee bar, in view of a television, or children’s play area in pediatric spaces.
Personal Space: Generally, patients will not choose to sit right next to a stranger unless no other options are available. They may even prefer to stand in this situation. 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 is an important consideration, especially when patients feel vulnerable due to illness.
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 navigating crowded aisles. Dedicated wheelchair parking is easy to overlook when designing a space but critically important.
Waiting Room Design Solutions
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
Consider providing single chairs, love seats for those who arrive with a companion, hip chairs that offer a higher seat for anyone with mobility issues, bariatric seating for larger visitors, 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 your patient population is seated comfortably, safely, and in a way that makes them feel welcomed and soothed.
Plan for Wheelchairs and Walkers
Ensure there are spaces where wheelchairs can be placed safely so that aisles and patient flow are 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 side table between 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
Offer seating with integrated power that allows patients to use their devices while waiting. Small workspaces provide a place to complete paperwork or 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 restroom.