In a typical medical office layout, there’s a front door that’s used by patients and a rear door (or staff entrance) for employees. Of course, this can be quite convenient, especially when connected to employee parking. But an interesting consequence of this configuration is that physicians and managers never experience the reception area from the patient’s perspective.

Next time you head out of the office during the day, come back in through the front door. Have a seat in the reception area. Are the seats comfortable? Are there enough of them? Are they spaced appropriately or too close together? (Imagine yourself sitting next to a sneezing flu patient if you need helping deciding.) If there’s a television, is it audible, but not too loud? Are there recent magazines on hand, or raggedy old ones from last year? What does the front desk activity convey to people waiting? Do patients look impatient – like they’ve been waiting too long? If so, does anyone behind the front desk seem to notice?

In our consulting engagements, we almost always have comments on how the reception area can be easily and inexpensively improved. But you don’t need consultants to figure this out. It’s easy to self-diagnose – and the upside on improving could be huge. Patients start deciding how they feel about the quality of the care they receive the moment they walk into the office. Even ill patients will feel better about their visit – and their experience in the exam room – when their first moments in your practice reassure them they’re in a welcoming, professional, and caring environment.

Patients view their entire practice experience as their “care” – not just the 15 minutes they get with a clinician. An inviting reception area is a cost-effective way to reinforce your practice’s caring attitude – and get the patient visit off to a strong start.

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