A typical patient arrives at a medical facility welcomed by a room filled with rows of chairs and a few small stacks of magazines, only to wait for a lengthy period of time as they are processed. When getting feedback from some family members about the quality of their medical facility experiences, the most common response was in regards to the question of “How do you pass the time while you’re waiting?” As designers, we have many options to improve the quality of that waiting experience.

Providing positive distractions is crucial in healthcare planning. If you put yourself in the patient’s shoes, you can probably imagine how much anxiety they may experience while waiting for test results or their exam. That long wait makes the stress much higher. Our goals, at minimum, should be to provide elements that positively distract patients from their medical concerns, help them to pass time between appointments or while waiting, and if possible, present an environment that creates a sense of awe and contributes to the patient experience. Three easy-to-implement ideas come to mind that can accomplish those goals: artwork, seating arrangements, and technology.

Artwork is a significant solution to this problem and nowadays, we are seeing art being incorporated into healthcare more and more. Some facilities offer displays for staff and patient artwork and others have huge atriums filled with art. Artwork can not only reduce stress during the patient experience, but it also provides positive distraction. A wonderful solution with artwork would be to include gallery-like walls with rotating art displays that not only showcase local artisans, but also give patients something new to look at each time they visit the facility.

Seating arrangements are another way to provide some distraction. I’m sure you’ve seen the medical office of rows of chairs lined up against the walls, providing little social interaction. However, if we change a room layout to provide clusters of group seating, we’re providing a friendlier atmosphere and encouraging social interaction, which results in positive distraction as well.

Being in the age of technology, another option is to provide small computer stations. Especially with the current evolvement of systems such as electronic medical records, a station would be useful for a patient to check medical information or their e-mail. Some waiting areas also provide televisions to help pass the time, and wireless networks are a good solution to accommodate patients with personal laptops and PDAs.

Beyond those ideas, there is still opportunity to create that sense of awe for the occupants. Perhaps that can be done through large windows in the waiting area that allow natural light and views to the changing seasons, a small café area to relax and pass the time, or perhaps a small library where one can research their diagnosis and other medical options. Whichever way we decide to go about a solution, it’s always important to consider how we can improve the quality of the waiting experience since it’s a significant part of a patient’s medical visit.