If someone sat down with a group of parents and asked them what they most desired in a pediatrician's waiting area, the answers would vary, of course, and would probably leave the interviewer thinking, "Now wait a minute, that's a bit of a tall order. This is just a waiting room, not a luxury destination."

But is it just a waiting room? Especially for families who visit medical settings once or twice a week? Finding the right balance for families in the waiting area can be a difficult task to pull off, but it can be achieved.

It's an all too familiar scene: building blocks that have been drooled on, touched by little germ-filled hands, or worse—licked before mom or dad could stop it; a child standing transfixed in front of the TV in the room, sometimes craning his neck because it’s positioned too far above his head; another is crying nervously as her parent folds into an awkward position to try and fill out paperwork and also attend to the child; piles of sometimes outdated (but almost always torn and frayed regardless of how current) magazines and children’s books; uncomfortable chairs; narrow doorways that have the parents trying to jam their strollers and car seats through the opening; and that one child-size activity table that sometimes gets too crowded to allow any positive activity amongst the children at all.

But someone has been listening closely and asking the right questions, as is evidenced by some of the waiting areas being designed today.

In a

blog from crockettstudio, the author offers perspective and commentary on some of the other challenges that arise in designing waiting rooms. It also mentions a breakthrough study from 1984 by Roger Ulrich, PhD, a Beale Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design at Texas A&M University, who examined the five tenets of healing design. From this study grew the influence of evidence-based design, which has been the basis for understanding the patient and family in a healthcare setting and continues to be relevant across the board.

Views of nature may not be feasible due to the overall building design but can be incorporated in other ways in aroom. A well-designed waiting area that keeps in mind the growing concern of infection control will not only help the children receiving treatment relax, but also the parent who may have to sit in that waiting room for long periods of time.

In the years as my boys grew up and we made our usual visit to the doctor's office, I would hear various parents mumbling about wishing there were a separate lounge with dimmed lighting where they could take a nap, reclining chairs, and a coffee/juice bar. Or they would compare it to “that other hospital” they had been to that had the great fish tank to distract the children or a large TV at children's eye level that showed neutral nature scenes, and had what they felt were clean toys and books, comfortable chairs, wide doorways, and large windows.

Years later, when the hospital redesigned the waiting area with new décor, moving it to a larger room with ceiling-to-floor windows, wider and more comfortable chairs, a large flat screen TV at child height that showed aquarium scenes, and a doorway that could fit a double-wide stroller, I distinctly remember feeling less frazzled as I entered the area. And it was a precursor for a more enjoyable visit to the hospital for both parent and child.