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waiting room design

How To Make Your Waiting Room More Inviting

In doctors’ offices, dental offices, urgent care clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, and other medical facilities, patients and caregivers deserve a welcoming environment that makes them feel comfortable, uplifted, and reassured. For any healthcare facility – where medical decisions can have a life-altering impact on a patient’s life – it’s vital to provide a space that supports the visiting patients and their families and contributes to the quality of care. The waiting room is an integral part of creating that comforting experience.

Your practice’s waiting area is the first thing that people see and a place where patients and their loved ones might spend significant time. The layout, amenities, furniture, and overall décor of this room make an important statement, so it should be well-planned and not look skimpy or cheap. While your patients should not have the impression that they are paying for opulent offices, your waiting area should convey a subtle message of success, while being comfortable and homey enough to alleviate some anxiety of the patients and other parties involved.

In this guide, our construction professionals at Corporeal Visions are discussing tips and strategies you can incorporate into your waiting room design to make it a more welcoming office space.

Patients and Caregivers Value a Welcoming Waiting Room Design

Think of the last time you waited to see a dentist or a physician. Did you look through the magazines strewn on a nearby table in the waiting area? Were you seated in a nice armchair or squeezed into a crowded bench? Were there refreshments like water, coffee, or snacks available? Did the stark lighting make your heart beating a little more rapidly? Did an agitated conversation between another patient and a staff member spike your anxiety?

Even a routine visit to a dentist’s or doctor’s office can be a memorable and profound experience. It’s not uncommon for people visiting a healthcare facility to experience a host of physiological and psychological reactions, such as quickened breathing, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, stress, and anxiety. 

Patients and people accompanying them (visitors) are particularly vulnerable to these reactions. They may feel powerless in an environment they perceive as intimidating. Patients and loved ones often visit a clinic under conditions that are usually physically debilitating and emotionally stressful. At this time in their lives, they need a non-stressful, supportive environment – your waiting room should be designed to address this concern.

Moreover, the waiting area is where the visitors form their first impression of the practitioner. For example, outdated furniture with torn or faded upholstery may just be the result of the doctor’s busy schedule of practicing medicine and being a business owner. However, to the visitors, this type of neglect may send the message that the doctor may be just as neglectful in their care standards. Designing this area as a cheerful space with integrated amenities, captivating colors, appropriate furniture, and soft lighting is extremely important.

To sum it up, an attractive waiting area can help you:

  • Reduce anxiety in your patients.
  • Improve your practice’s impression and thus, perceived quality of care.
  • Increase patient satisfaction.

Key Design Elements to Make Your Waiting Room More Inviting

In working with many healthcare practices, the designers and commercial general contractors at Corporeal Visions have found that most providers want an office design that is an expression of their personal approach to care. They want their patients to feel an atmosphere of calm and tranquility as soon as they enter the practice. This can reinforce the idea of holistic care, or whole health for a whole life. If you are remodeling or constructing a new building, the following design and layout tips will help your local contractor create the desired atmosphere:

Different Seating Options

People in waiting areas tend to be in groups of different sizes. Some visitors want to be left alone, some come in larger groups, and some are accompanied by one or two people – you should offer seating to accommodate them all. The seating arrangement is an important factor as it affects people’s ability to talk to each other comfortably. Most people like to sit next to one another or face to face.

The conventional fixed-seating layout, with people sitting side by side in a row, is not conducive to friendly chatting. We recommend an inward-facing seating arrangement, with some groups of chairs around tables. 

Additionally, your waiting area should be able to accommodate wheelchair users and others with mobility issues. Provide movable seating so the area can be adjusted to make room for anyone using a wheelchair or another assistance device. Here are our best recommendations for comfortable seating in waiting rooms:

  • Avoid seating with sharp edges.
  • Choose chairs that are easy to move or offer wheelchair space among the seats.
  • Provide seating that allows people to arrange themselves in groups of different sizes and configurations, as they wish.
  • Provide seating that allows people to position themselves comfortably for conversation, with regard to both the angle at which one person can face another and the distance from one seat to another.
  • Provide seating designed for a wide range of users, including seniors; tall, short, or heavy people; pregnant women; and children.
  • Choose seating material that is comfortable; it shouldn’t be something that is scratchy, squeaky, or causes people to sweat (like wool, acrylic, nylon, or vinyl).
  • Whenever possible, provide seating with arms and backs that support the thighs and upper and lower back.

Art Pieces

Visual art can help to reduce stress – as long as your design professional for your commercial project takes care to avoid wildly abstract or surreal images, which can be confusing or create a negative distraction.

Research has shown that patients respond positively to nature paintings and prints. Bold colors and clear contrast between artwork and its surroundings can create visual interest and focus attention on a specific element. You can choose something that integrates colors, forms, and textures that are familiar to your local community. It could be contemporary, abstract, pop, or representational art in a range of forms, from sculpture to paintings, paper crafts, and mixed media. You might tell your general contractor to incorporate a wall large enough for a mural by a local artist.

If possible, consider using artwork that relates to the specialized care provided by your clinic, or something that has been created by people who have similar health conditions treated by your facility. For example, oncology treatment centers often exhibit art created by cancer survivors and pediatric clinics frequently display art made by children.


Soft, soothing music that has a slow tempo (no accented beats) and a smooth melody can also alleviate anxiety in some patients. Having music in the waiting room makes it less stressful for visitors who might otherwise worry about long waiting times. Your commercial general contractors can include wiring for speakers throughout the waiting room.

As for what type of music you should use, it will depend on the vibe you want to create and the age range of your patients. Upbeat pop music can be a great choice for a waiting room if you want to create an optimistic and energetic atmosphere. Instrumental (i.e., no lyrics), classical, and soft melodies work really well in creating a serene ambiance. You can even play soft, nature sounds to put your waiting patients at ease.

Nature Views

Research indicates that people waiting to be seen by a healthcare professional prefer views of nature or something similarly calming. As the majority of individuals find views of nature to be relaxing, ask your commercial construction contractor to strategically size and place windows in your waiting room. These can bring an abundance of natural light inside.

You can also bring nature indoors by using plants, aquariums, or water elements. Aquariums are a particularly great choice if your patients include children suffering from hyperactivity disorders, the elderly, or visitors arriving at the clinic under especially stressful circumstances. The shape or size of the aquarium doesn’t matter, choose whatever fits your budget and consult your general contractor on feasibility. If you have a tight budget or not enough office space, consider a virtual aquarium.

Softer, Warmer Lighting

Whether it’s the waiting room of a healthcare facility, the entrance of a fine-dining restaurant, or the dressing rooms in retail stores, lighting is a big factor when it comes to affecting the comfort and ambiance of any commercial space. Incandescent or warm fluorescent lighting is considered friendlier; you can incorporate table lamps and natural lighting as much as possible to create a warmer and more welcoming atmosphere. 

Lighting design is especially important if you cater to elderly patients as they can’t tolerate glare and need higher intensities of light than younger people. The lighting in your waiting room should be bright enough for reading, but not overly glaring. To achieve perfect illumination in your new construction or remodel, your general contractor should consider the interaction between the lighting, wall colors, flooring finish, and other surfaces. Consider indirect lighting (like table lamps) and recessed spotlights in the ceiling.


Most waiting rooms now are equipped with TVs for a very good reason: they help take patients’ minds off the purpose of their visit. There are a few things you need to think about when choosing the best spots for TVs in the waiting room:

  • Choose TVs that can be muted or whose volume can be easily adjusted with a remote control so they can be installed away from the reception area.
  • Place a TV in a corner or nook to create a separate space where people who choose to watch can do so.
  • Make sure there’s an “audio privacy zone” located separately from the TV area for people who would rather rest, read, or engage in other quiet activities.

Your commercial contractors can strategically place outlets and cable access in the area you want to place a TV.

Self Check-In Kiosks

Electronic kiosks play an important role in healthcare settings. These touch-screen computing devices allow patients to complete check-in, basic registration, and check-out on their own. They can also be equipped with scanners that can read QR or bar codes and apps that will enable the kiosks to sync directly with smartphones.

Your building construction contractor can install wall-mount interactive digital screens around the main entry and waiting spaces to provide basic information about your services, upcoming events, and locations of amenities, bathrooms, and departments.

Kids Area

Most waiting rooms have a separate children’s zone to make it easy for their guardians and staff members to keep them distracted and out of the traffic patterns of other patients. Make sure your commercial general contractor includes enough space for kids to play and move around while their family members can observe them from a nearby spot.

Art patterns, especially in the floor design, can be incorporated into the waiting room as a positive distraction. Your construction project manager can use a kid-friendly navigation system in the room, such as floor tiles with cartoon animals on them leading to the bathroom.

The play area should be located within the acoustical and visual range of the reception area, so staff members can keep an eye on the kids. Also, use sound-diminishing construction site materials in the kid space. Provide some toys and games that are sturdily-made, and, if possible, can be used by more than one kid at a time. Don’t choose toys that have small parts that can be easily swallowed or lost.

Digital Signage for Waiting Times

Time is always a concern in waiting areas. Patients and visitors are constantly wondering how much longer they will have to wait when they will be finally done, whether their parking meter has expired and whether they’ll have enough time to run errands on their way to home or work. Even though everybody has a phone these days and many of them may be wearing a watch, strategically placed digital signage can improve your visitors’ experience and make their wait seem shorter. Your commercial building contractor can install digital signage with software that provides real-time updates on waiting times for each patient as well as conveys other important information about your services and procedures.

Comfortable Furniture

It goes without saying that the seating in your waiting area should be comfortable. Individual chairs tend to be more expensive than a couch, but people feel much more comfortable in chairs. A couple of side tables or a coffee table can offer books, newspapers, and magazines so people have something to focus on while they are waiting for their appointment. If you have limited space, a wall-mounted brochure or magazine rack can be useful. Small sculptures, pillows, paintings, live plants, and tea/coffee service can be a good addition to your waiting room.

Ask your commercial general contractor to avoid using furniture or finishes made with materials that contain VOC (volatile organic compounds), especially benzene and formaldehyde, which can trigger breathing issues in patients. Pay special attention to upholstered furniture – will it be easy to spot clean if someone spills a beverage on it?

High-quality furniture will cost more upfront, but it will last years (or even decades) longer than cheap models. Keep in mind that furnishings in a clinic are subjected to a lot of wear and tear on a daily basis, so choose something that is not only stain-resistant, but also resilient. Select furniture that can be easily disassembled so that the cushions, seat backs, seats, arms, and legs can be thoroughly cleaned and refurbished.

Complimentary Snacks and Drinks Area

When most people are bored or stressed, they eat. For outpatients and visitors who must wait for several hours, complimentary snacks and drinks can tide them over until they have a chance to eat a real meal. Your inpatient visitors will appreciate having access to tea or coffee without having to leave the floor. Your commercial contractor could build a designated snack and coffee bar, complete with a sink and shelving.

Work With Corporeal Visions for an Integrated Approach to Healthcare Construction

At Corporeal Visions, our goal is to exceed expectations in the areas of quality, cost, and schedule with each project. We offer design, new construction, and remodeling services to dental clinics and healthcare facilities in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area.

We advise our clients on the best possible options to get the most out of their construction dollars. To learn more, call us at 703-909-4193 or contact us online.

If you have questions, concerns, or you’re ready to begin the process, we can’t wait to hear from you. Contact us today via phone or online.

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