5 ways to fix the waiting room

Dreamstudio.ai. Only slightly more creepy than a real waiting room.

Waiting rooms suck. Think of every waiting room you’ve ever been in: doctor’s office, dentist’s office, motor vehicle department, car dealership, train station, bus station, airport — they’re all terrible.

Every waiting room sends the same message: your time is worth less than something else. It might be the doctor’s time, the motor vehicle people’s time, the car mechanic’s time, the train — whatever it is, it’s big and important, so you have to wait.

Waiting rooms are dirty and depressing because they are transient spaces. No one wants to spend time there, no one “owns” the space. Think of yourself in a waiting room you’ve been in lately; do you feel bored, enervated, nauseous? Of course you do.

So let’s come up with some new waiting room rules.

1 No TV sets

Everyone has a mobile phone. They can amuse themselves. The sound and depressing visuals of daytime TV annoy everyone. If you want to serve the few people who don’t have a phone to pass the time — like small children — then leave some books around for them.

And dump the magazines while you’re at it. The March 2017 issue of People Magazine is not as interesting as Candy Crush (or, for that matter, the January 2022 issue of People Magazine accessible on your phone).

2 Rotating art exhibits

Did you ever go to a cafe and see art for sale on the walls? It’s pretty cool, eh? You get to look at something interesting, and the artists get to show off and sell their work.

Every waiting room should have that. There are thousands of artists ready to display their art and millions of people waiting around to look at it. Every waiting room should be a gallery.

But wait — is it too difficult for medical practices and car dealers to line up the art exhibits and track the people who want to buy?

This is the perfect niche for an internet company who can set up local art depots, accept dropoffs from artists, hang art in waiting rooms, track people who want to buy them (use a QR code!), and later collect them up, distribute them to buyers, and return the unsold pieces back to the artist. And of course, send the artists the money paid, minus a commission paid to the service. And whoever maintains the waiting room should pay, too, for the privilege of having interesting stuff on the walls to amuse visitors.

3 Use an app or mobile site to tell us how long the wait is

I can look at a web site to find out how long the TSA line is the airport. Why can’t I do the same to find out when my dentist will be ready to see me?

We just need the reception desk to update the latest delay info about once every 15 minutes. My guess is they’d prefer that to getting constantly asked why the doctor isn’t ready.

4 Text when ready

Yes, I understand why doctors need you to wait, and that they might be running behind because of an emergency. The same applies, I guess, to auto mechanics.

But these days, restaurants will take your mobile number, tell you how long it’s likely to be, and then text you when your table is nearly ready.

Why can’t your doctor’s office do that? Check in, then go have a snack or a stroll and be back 5 minutes after you get the text message.

5 Show us the queue

A little while ago, I went to a hospital where a relative was having elective surgery. There was a huge display board showing the status of each patient (identified by a code number, for confidentiality) and where they were in the process — being prepped, in surgery, in recovery, or ready to receive visitors. That was awesome.

Some motor vehicle departments have this too. And of course, there are similar displays at every airport.

Why not do this at the car dealership? And if it’s on a big display board, the same information should be accessible by mobile phone.

Waiting rooms are miserable. That’s on you, service providers.

You know where the waiting room is not miserable? At the barber shop. And you know why? Because you can always walk across the street and get your hair cut somewhere else.

Just because we’re stuck with you doesn’t mean you have to treat us little better than the dust bunnies stuck under that worn out couch below the print from Sears that’s been there since 1997.

Three principles:

  • Tell us what’s happening so we can avoid coming in too early.
  • Tell us what’s going on so we don’t have to ask for information.
  • Give us something nice to look at, and update it at least monthly.

You may not be able to fix the American health care “system,” but you can damn well fix the waiting room!

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  1. All extremely good observations, Josh. I especially like #2, the rotating art exhibit. That could bring great joy and excitement to both medical offices and public waiting areas.

    BTW, I must give credit to my local airport, San Francisco International, for its investments in improving its public areas. It has a nice array of art, enhanced by multiple professionally-curated museum exhibits. Most gates have stylish, comfortable seating; some concourses have lounge-like seating clusters as well. Many seats have power outlets adjacent to them. And they dumped the annoying TV sets years ago.

  2. What great ideas! You are spot on! It often feels like the medical establishment is centered around medical personnel rather than patients.

    Keep the good stuff coming and hang in there as you navigate all of these rough spots. We’re rooting for you!!

  3. Oh, you sly dog, Josh!

    Very clever, but I see – at last – what you’ve been doing here lately. Leveraging technology to keep your blog going in case you want a day or two (or three) off during your upcoming change of routine. Gradually introducing your followers to your little scheme by slipping a few examples of this technology into your daily offerings.

    So I decided to ask this “mutual friend of ours” to provide 5 ways to fix waiting rooms. It responded –

    1. Offer refreshments: Providing drinks and snacks can make the waiting room experience more pleasant for patients, clients, or passengers.

    2. Install comfortable seating: Offer a variety of seating options, such as soft chairs, couches, and benches, to make the waiting room more comfortable.

    3. Provide entertainment: Install TVs, books, magazines, or puzzles to help pass the time and make the wait feel shorter.

    4. Manage the flow of people: Consider implementing a system to reduce crowding, such as calling patients by name or assigning numbered tickets.

    5. Address the root cause of long wait times: Long wait times may be due to understaffing or inefficient processes. Identifying and addressing these issues can help reduce wait times in the long run.

    These ways don’t match yours exactly, but there’s a good deal of similarity.

    Maybe blog writers need to “watch their six” in the face of better and better technology!

    N.B. Most of the above was written (by zombies?) in jest, but I’m sure you knew that.