Well-planned waiting spaces

Lobbies must be designed with much of the seating oriented perpendicular to the exterior view and the reception area, enabling patients to maintain visibility to the check-in area

By Manu Malhotra

Healthcare experiences are made up of more than moments of care—they also include the time spent in transition between those moments. One of the first spaces patients and families encounter, the waiting room is traditionally considered a necessary element in every hospital and medical facility, yet it rarely drives the planning process and seldom is subjected to a rigorous review. These transitional spaces where patients and their families wait are often uncomfortable and unappealing, increasing feelings of stress and negative mind sets.
Beside typically following codes and/or guidelines to determine the number of seats per whatever unit of the area it serves, and then trying to accommodate these particular physical needs of the population who will use it, we also need to see and understand waiting spaces from patient point of view which is often irritating, stressful, full of nervousness, anxiety and unease mainly caused by overcrowded nature of the space with little privacy, too much noise, lack of sightlines to information sources, minimal support for personal devices, uncomfortable and unappealing environments with few positive
distractions.

Create inviting spaces that reduce stress
Create inviting spaces that reduce stress We have been designing comfortable settings and hosting amenities by incorporating soothing materials, textures, colours, lighting, and views, along with a space for items such as bags, personal devices or beverage. It is important to understand and take care of people’s preferences for varying levels of noise and other stimuli, and create quiet zones where people can retreat from sources of noise as well as conversation areas where families can be together without any negative distraction. The lobbies must be designed with much of the seating oriented perpendicular to the exterior view and the reception area, enabling patients to maintain visibility to the check-in area, while also enjoying the views of nature.
One must critically analyse and select the style, material, and colour of the furniture to reflect the healthcare practice brand. Art galleries should be planned within the waiting spaces to display the artwork of local people and school kids and space for hanging community bulletin board should be incorporated that includes flyers about local hikes, flea markets, and other activities.

Provide for productive transitions
In order to design ideal waiting spaces one must understand its character as waiting spaces in a healthcare facility vary with departments such as – OPD waiting, IP waiting, ICU waiting & OP/ surgery waiting. While designing a healthcare facility, one must design a range of waiting spaces appropriate for varying activities, durations, organisational needs and to provide the required levels of privacy. Besides varying waiting types need to cater to varying age groups as well.
The seatings are planned with clear sightlines to doorways, clinician entrances, and information desks. One must critically analyse the duration and select modular and flexible furniture which allows for changing design and configuration and support the activities and postures appropriate for the duration of the wait.
ICU Waiting: ‘Vigil’ saps families not only of their energy but also their ability to make intelligent decisions, therefore ICU waiting shall be designed in order to allow the users to cope up with the experience. One should create a user-friendly comfortable and calming environment for the family within the maximum possible proximity to patients to easy access and at the same time give enough privacy to doctors and staff so that they are not disturbed. Apart from comfortable recliners one must provide additional spaces such as lockers for the personal belongings of family, blanket issue area, prayer area to provide spiritual support as well as a lounge area to provide social support and provision of café for overnight stays.
OP/ Surgery waiting area: Even routine surgeries can take several hours. For families, this waiting space is being designed with a variety of activities such as workstations, lockers for storing and retrieving personal items, social settings, consultation cum counseling rooms/ bays with the surgeon located just outside the surgery corridor for sharing visual information.

Make waiting active – Integrating different age groups
Patients often miss work for their appointments and helping them be productive can alleviate stress and reflect that the organisation value their time. Therefore beside providing free WiFi, one must make provision for individual desks or work tables and charging stations in the design. Also, one must design a variety of seating options such as – a cluster of chairs around a coffee table, a quiet space for professionals, and a child-friendly corner to keep kids entertained without bothering others. With 600 million people, nearly half of population under the age of 25, India is a country with maximum youth percentage and in order to cater the needs for the millennial, the waiting spaces are designed to facilitate working on laptops and do con calls in enclosed cubicles.
Organisations are measured and reimbursed on how well they deliver the patient experience. In an effort to increase their scores, many organisations are not only focusing on renovation or redesign of patient rooms or clinical spaces but on transition spaces as well. This has led the healthcare planners to rethink on waiting spaces in order to design to its maximum efficiency. By providing more choices and supporting a range of postures and activities, we are redesigning waiting spaces as adaptable and productive environments that provide better healthcare experiences.

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