Waiting room best practices (improving the patient experience)

Jun 25, 2021 | Practice Management Software, Tips

Your medical practice’s waiting room is one of the first patient experiences you’ll be offering before you even introduce yourself. As we’re all aware – first impressions count!

Getting the waiting room experience right is important if you want patients returning, positive patient outcomes and word of mouth recommendations for your medical practice.

Unfortunately, just because you’re skilled at your health care specialty doesn’t mean this is all that matters. Let’s run through some waiting room best practices to nail that all important early patient experience.

The reception area

Your reception area or front desk should be fit for purpose, welcoming, comfortable, and well branded. This is the face of your medical practice, and you should certainly take time to put in some effort.

Make sure you have a smooth and modern reception experience. Consider integrating:

  • a sleek and modern desk set-up that’s well branded
  • digital patient forms on tablets
  • an easy booking solution workflow to identify and check-in your patient
  • competent and friendly staff
  • face masks
  • hand sanitiser
  • QR codes
  • a display of certificates, accreditations and awards
  • water and a tea & coffee station
  • warm lighting
  • paintings, photography, and art
  • plant life

Take time to run through your reception experience. Be certain you not only have a pleasant waiting area, but also a tight and patient friendly check-in experience, with as few manual or long-winded processes as possible.

Comfortable setting & seating arrangements are important

Comfortable setting and seating arrangements in your big or small waiting room are a must. Don’t be too frugal when it comes to your seating arrangements and furniture choices.

Your waiting room should put patients at ease and ensure their experience is comfortable – especially if they’re facing medical difficulties.

Ensure your furniture and seating arrangements cater to a wide range of patient conditions, ages and are easy to clean.

Waiting time: Make sure you avoid long waits

Another cause of losing patients and the deterioration of their experiences in your healthcare clinic is waiting times. Be absolutely sure you avoid long patient waiting times.

Time management is your responsibility, and nothing frustrates a patient faster than sitting around waiting to be seen by a specialist.

By properly utilising your booking or clinic management software, it should be easy to avoid double booking and appointment crossover.

Centralise all appointments in your chosen solution to avoid this error. Be sure to leave enough room for ancillary time consumption such as bathroom or lunch breaks.

Use mobile reminders

Sending out automatic appointment reminders via SMS is essential and such notifications can be easily set up through your booking software.

By automating this reminder process, you can easily avoid a lot of missed bookings and wasted time. This, of course leads, to open booking slots for other patients and more cash flowing through your business.

As opposed to email, SMS has astronomical open rates, so this is certainly the preferred method you should be opting for.

Keep your waiting patients entertained

In the current era, a plethora of entertainment options reside in our pockets and bags. Having said that, you should always endeavour to provide some form of entertainment for waiting patients.

Waiting room media

Your waiting room media can be a topic of contention. While a digital screen or music can be an entertaining distraction, you also don’t want to irritate your patients. Choose something neutral and low volume or with closed captions to provide ambient entertainment without causing undue annoyance.

One form of media that never goes astray is some interesting reading. Get some coffee table books or even educational practice-relevant literature. The best magazines for waiting rooms cover all interests, so get a range of current affairs, nature, sport, music, and gossip publications.


This is one area where not everyone will agree – what is the best waiting room music? Music can be polarising, as you’d likely expect. How many people do you know with the same tastes that all agree on music choices? Probably not too many.

While some tracks can be pleasing to one patient, it’s a grating nightmare for someone else. Tread carefully and think broadly if you choose to play music. Think about ambience and soft music with a wide range of appeal.

​Digital displays

Having neutral content on a digital display is a good place to start if you choose to have screens in your waiting room. Documentaries, news channels, educational and topical content etc.

Ensure social distancing is followed

This point is crucial. Not only is social distancing a habit we should all be introducing into our health practices, but depending on government issued advice, it can also be the law.

Keep your ear to the ground when it comes to federal and state or territory health advice and always err on the side of caution.

Many health practices have chosen to have free face masks available and will enforce 1.5 metre social distancing in their seating arrangements.

It’s a good idea to stagger your appointments appropriately to avoid congestion in your waiting room.

Managing the risk of COVID-19

When treating patients, you not only want to avoid any participation in spreading pathogens and risking public health, but you also want to avoid your medical practice being splashed on the front pages as a COVID-19 hotspot.

On top of enforcing physical distancing, strongly consider wearing a mask yourself to instil patient confidence and be scrupulous about washing your hands with soap and water.

Accessibility is a must

Many health clinics cater for different abilities and injured patients. Consideration for mobility should be a big part of your waiting room experience.

Using accessible furniture, handrails and being mindful of awkward spaces should all be considerations in your waiting room.

If you nail your waiting room experience, you’ll be rewarded with increased patient satisfaction, which in turn leads to repeat visitation and positive word-of-mouth marketing.


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