A Place Of Peace

Updated on August 28, 2023

Christy LedererBy Christy Lederer

Recently, I had a family medical emergency that required my husband and me to visit a healthcare facility where we spent quite a few hours in an Emergency Department Waiting Room.  To say this space was “clinical” would be kind. The lighting was poor, laminate was chipping off the desk, torn-vinyl seating was arranged so we could see everyone and everyone could see us. Communal sleeping bags were thrown about for guests to use.  Shortly after arriving – a security guard asked to search my purse.  I felt very uncomfortable.

We had arrived feeling stress – this atmosphere made those feelings worse.

As an interior designer I am aware that surroundings influence feelings as well as a sense of security and safety. These feelings are amplified while idly sitting in a Hospital Waiting Room. Everyone at some time is placed in a position of waiting for themselves or a loved one.

Current research has questioned if Waiting Rooms are necessary.  Designers who incorporate the Lean Process (developed to identify and reduce waste) have studied this issue.  The subject is addressed in the article “Should Hospitals Eliminate Waiting Rooms?” by Betty Ann Bowser (PBS Newshour, October 2012). Valerie Bauman of the (Puget Sound Business Journal, March 2013), also writes “Much has been made about the “lean” approach to health care: efforts (should be) made to eliminate waste and streamline the day-to-day operations to make treatment cheaper, faster and better quality”.  

Are Waiting Rooms wasteful?

Family members or friends can’t possibly accompany their loved one every step of the way during treatment. Is it possible to remove Waiting Rooms from hospitals, especially in Emergency Departments where appointments are unscheduled

This does not seem likely.

So, if we agree that Waiting Rooms are necessary what makes the space successful? Success – meaning an area that a visitor can find some peace, comfort, and lose a sense of time.

First, arriving at the hospital, the Waiting Room should be easily identified and accessible to the entrance. Already stressed patients and visitors do not need to become more anxious simply trying to find the Waiting Room. When entering the Waiting Room, the space needs to create a great first impression. This helps build trust and a feeling of confidence in the hospital staff.

In the article Clinic Design: The Waiting Rooms (Healthcare Design Magazine, March 2012), Christine Guzzo Vickery states: “Aesthetics, lighting, exterior views, seating, furnishings, regional artwork, indoor climate, positive distractions, and accessibility to building amenities,” all play a role in creating a successful Waiting Room. Properly designed Waiting Rooms can support an important part of healing and wellness.

As with many healthcare public spaces, aesthetically, the goal is to create a tranquil environment that may include elements from nature as well as a feeling of home. “Hospitality or spa-like” are phrases used to describe the desired appearance. Thoughtful design decisions have an impact on the function of space.  For example, in creating a comfortable indoor climate a simple yet important feature is to position the supply air diffusers so air does not blow directly on a visitor. Light fixtures should provide low level, decorative light creating a relaxed, non-clinical environment.

Debajyoti Pati addresses “Positive Distractions” in the March 2010 issue of Healthcare Design Magazine These distractions are meant to create positive feelings and hold the visitor’s attention as a way to reduce stress. Waiting Rooms that have incorporated education and entertainment, often through technology, will reduce the intimidation commonly associated with the hospital experience. When prolonged visits are necessary, guests can also spend time in an adjoining coffee shop (possibly a Starbucks or Crazy Mochas) or go outside to a soothing garden. Filtering intentional smells and sounds throughout the space are valuable techniques. Artwork can be used to create a positive distraction. Strong evidence exists that art and healing are linked.

New technologies such as wireless internet, flat-screen televisions, and zoned sound systems, have become common. Some hospitals have included touch-screen computers that allow visitors to learn about the hospital facility, nearby community events, and available seminars.  Information regarding surgical procedures, schedule, and even a physician database can be provided. Given the proper environment, tablet PCs can be made available to provide the visitor with control over their choice of application. Unique mobile options that include the posting of online wait times, patient tracking, texting, as well as an ER Extra iPhone app have been worthwhile additions

It is undeniable that waiting anywhere has often been associated with anxiety. Feeling isolated in a Waiting Room (Does anyone know I’m here?) accentuates this feeling.  To reduce this type of anxiety Waiting Rooms should include a visual connection between spaces. This allows each individual waiting space to feel larger and more open—dramatically less confining or closed-off.  The overall space should feature numerous seating options, from single-chair or three-seat midsize choices, to comfortable lounge chairs. Accommodations for bariatric seating and space for wheelchairs should also be considered.  Waiting areas should be created with a variety of additional unique rooms, niches or areas that can be customized for specific patient/ visitor populations.

The intent is to provide patients and visitors with a place of peace that reduces stress, provides comfort, and offers positive distractions to make the wait more pleasant. I believe Waiting Room design should be a reflection of what is important to the facility and the population that inhabits the space. Design is always changing and new research will help improve the Waiting Room experience. Implementing key elements that thoughtfully help the visitor and patient through a difficult time should always be the main focus in Waiting Room design.

Christy Lederer is an Interior Designer and Associate at Stantec Architecture and Engineering LLC.

Christy works in the Stantec Butler, Pennsylvania Office and can be reached at [email protected].

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