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Eliminating the Waiting Room in Existing Clinics

By Katie Vander Putten

Director of Healthcare

Refreshed Waiting Room in Existing Clinic

In the past two decades, healthcare providers have declared war against wait time.

Study after study has shown that wait time has an outsized impact on patient satisfaction, which can have a “domino effect,” in turn impacting employee satisfaction, retention, and quality of care.

Recognizing wait time as an essential component of the care experience, providers have started experimenting with an array of strategies that limit wait time and minimize the impact of wait time on patients.

One casualty in this battle against wait time is the traditional waiting room experience. Many existing healthcare facilities have large central waiting rooms—but even the quality lobbies, the ones with tall ceilings, natural light, and the most current issues of People and Time—are poor allies in providers’ fight against wait time.

While providers must leverage Lean thinking to address process inefficiencies and overhaul their scheduling systems, there are opportunities in this paradigm shift for architects to assist providers not only in addressing wait time but improving existing facilities.

One influential model for managing wait time in the future of the outpatient, medical office setting is Kaiser Permanente’s “Re-imagining Ambulatory Design” (RAD) concept. In this model, large lobby spaces are community areas, where patients can check in using Kaiser Permanente’s self-service kiosks and wait for a few moments before medical assistants bring them back to either an exam room or sub-waiting area.

This patient flow eliminates the typical waiting room experience, stifling some of the frustrations inherent to that setting (“Why is that person being seen before me?”) while also bringing patients closer to service providers. These smaller, more intimate sub-waiting areas are easier for providers to “round,” facilitating patient-provider communication if there are delays or unanticipated wait times.

Given the oversized waiting rooms of many existing outpatient medical facilities, there are opportunities to recycle some of that unnecessary area, converting it, for instance, into additional clinical space.

MOA followed this strategy on a recent project and was able to “reclaim” square footage from the waiting room and create a new behavioral health clinic. The provider was able to add a new service line to the clinic while avoiding a costly addition to the existing facility.