I was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office yesterday waiting for an appointment. The room was fairly small and typical of most waiting rooms: chairs around the outside of the room with a row of chairs in the middle, end tables with old magazines on them, and a TV mounted in one corner of the room with the national news on. I was pleased to see that there were also signs on the wall asking patients and visitors not to use cell phones in the area; I always get a little uncomfortable listening to other people’s personal conversations.

I checked in with the nurse and took a seat across the room from the only other person waiting. She was reading one of the various months-old magazines. I, being notoriously punctual and arriving only minutes before my appointment, decided just to watch whatever was on TV, assuming it would be something relating to the ongoing BP oil spill. But just as I keyed in to the television, CNN—or MSNBC or whatever national news station was on—had a story about hospital infections: their prevalence and likelihood, and all of the things that happen in hospitals that can make you sick.

The broadcaster went to commercial before the report and I was called in for my appointment, so I never heard it, but I couldn’t help but think about a recent blog post on HEALTHCARE DESIGN by Caroline Leemis entitled, Providing positive distractions during the patient wait experience. In it, Leemis mentions artwork, communal seating arrangements, natural light and views to the outdoors, and wireless internet networks as possible positive distractions for patients in similar waiting rooms, noting specifically that stacks of magazines no longer cut it.

This sentiment never felt truer than sitting in a window-less waiting room, listening to a national news report about how the facility I was in—or at least the type of facility I was in—is unsafe, unhealthy, and can cause sickness and sometimes even death. My appointment only took a handful of minutes and having been in this industry long enough, the report actually made me think more than incite any sort of visceral reaction, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the other visitor/patient in the room had in mind when she overheard the news.

It also made me consider that having a television in a waiting room can be a gamble: unless the office has a dedicated patient base (e.g., a pediatric facility) and can cater directly to its audience with dedicated programming, the prospect of putting a channel on that is “innocuous” enough to all parties such as the national news—which is often criticized for promoting fear through primarily negative stories, not to mention the various political discussions that could produce negative emotions—is a risky move if you’re hoping to ease your patients and visitors.