Shorter wait times are a patient satisfier, but certain design configurations can make patient wait times and appointments take longer. In the case of an ambulatory care center, longer appointments mean fewer appointments per day, restricting the “carrying capacity” of the facility. For instance, the same medical office building can complete either 100 or 150 appointments per day, depending on their length. The following design features can help to speed things up.

Multifunction rooms with portable equipment
In many clinics, providers perform different functions in different spaces. As a result, they struggle with the ebbs and flows of patient volume misaligning with each of the available specialized room types.

Multifunction rooms with portable equipment allow any function to occur in any space. A pre-op testing clinic is a prime example. Ten multifunction rooms with portable equipment offer more flexibility than five EKG rooms and five lab rooms. Patients don’t have to wait for a specialized room to become available when they can use any room.

Number of exam rooms divisible by 3, 4, or 5
As a rule of thumb, the number of exam rooms should not be a prime number. This improves the likelihood that each staff member will care for the same number of patients. For example, with 16 exam rooms and a 1:4 staff ratio, each nurse cares for four patients. With 17 exam rooms, patients assigned to the nurse with five patients will wait longer.

Shared changing areas
Design can cut patient wait times by manipulating the distribution of changing rooms.

For instance, in an imaging center, separate changing areas for each modality usually result in uneven use. Where appropriate, share changing areas between modalities. This way ebbs and flows in traffic between the different modalities offset one another. This makes more rooms available, so patients are less likely to wait. Furthermore, lockers for patient belongings offset the need to hold a changing room for a patient’s return.

Sufficient storage
Having supplies readily at hand keeps clinicians focused on patient care. In-room storage limits time wasted on hunting and gathering efforts. (Storage must be right-sized to avoid collecting superfluous items.) This also holds true for items as mundane as a standard printer. An in-room printer allows the clinician to print patient discharge information uninterrupted.

Centralized registration
Many outpatient centers require patients to check in at the main registration desk as well as at their specialist clinic. Further, they require patients to do so on each subsequent visit to the facility. Every registration stop adds five to 10 minutes to the patient’s visit. Instead, by locating all of the registration and check-in functions at the main greeter desk and electronically transmitting patient information to each clinic, patients only check in one time.  This shaves valuable minutes from each visit.

Patient satisfaction drops for each five minutes of waiting time. Saving even one minute per visit adds up to a substantial time and cost savings for a healthcare organization over the course of a year. Given the impact this might have across the lifetime of a facility, the choices that designers make to save time are more critical than ever.

Delia Caldwell is director of project delivery at Freeman White (Charlotte, N.C.). She can be reached at David Martin, is principal and studio leader at Freeman White. He can be reached at