10 inexpensive ways to spruce up your waiting room

by Colin Leslie
The Medical Post
November 4, 2008

TORONTO | We queried a few Canadian doctors by e-mail and they wrote back with some simple tips to improve your waiting room that cost nothing, or not much:

1. Inexpensive wall art. A number of doctors offered innovative ways to decorate waiting room walls on a budget.

• “Stretch a colourful fabric, fabric print or beach towel over a styrofoam or other rigid board, staple or tape on the back to keep it in place, and hang it up,” offered Dr. Gillian Arsenault, a family physician in Maple Ridge, B.C.

• “A poster or two of medical anatomy or an art deco. My daughter has done some paintings in water colour and these are up,” wrote Dr. Eric Grief of Thornhill, Ont.

• Dr. Shane Neilson of Guelph, Ont., said it is a good idea to show some local identification in your choice of art. “Put something in there that shows an allegiance, an affiliation, that humanizes the office. For example, if this were Kitchener, one might put up a poster featuring the Kitchener Rangers.”

• “We hired an interior designer to create an efficient and inviting space when we moved into our most recent office; her services weren’t that costly,” wrote Bridgewater, N.S.’s Dr. Rhonda Church. “We bought a few interesting—but inexpensive—prints for the waiting room.”

2. Toy box. Pick up a large, clear bin from Home Depot or Canadian Tire for toys or books for kids to root around in. “Colourful, quiet toys that can be sanitized for the younger set—and sanitize them regularly,” advised Dr. Arsenault.

3. Provide a patient phone for placing local calls.

4. A new coat of paint. “The colour scheme and illumination of my waiting room and reception area are designed to be calming in an attempt to start the patient feeling better even before I see them,” wrote Dr. Erik Paterson, in Creston, B.C.

And, for goodness’s sake, keep the waiting room clean and tidy.

5. Up-to-date magazines. There’s a reason no one has surreptitiously slipped that Popular Science from 1987 into their bag. “Our magazines are up-to-date each month and cover a wide variety of topics. Patients come early and often linger after appointments to read them,” wrote Ottawa’s Dr. Mamta Gautam. “As well, we have several anthologies of cartoons—Cathy, Far Side, Herman, Simpsons—and it is a real pleasure (especially as a psychiatrist) to hear a patient laugh in the waiting room!”

Dr. Church said her practice used to receive magazines in bulk from a service but they came packaged and were sent quarterly, so they were out of date when they arrived.

“We have chosen instead an à la carte approach,” Dr. Church said. “My secretary says good old Reader’s Digest is still a top choice. We receive four copies of every issue and they all ‘walk away’ by month’s end. We go heavy on Canadian content. In our rural practice Chatelaine, Saltscapes, Eastern Woods and Waters, Canadian Family, Today’s Parent, Maclean’s, Popular Mechanics and sports magazines are well-received.”

6. Privacy screens. Provide an infant changing table with privacy screens. Position the reception station in such a way that patients can protect their confidentiality when announcing the reasons for their arrival.

7. Racks and trays. “Add a rack for coats at the entrance. This allows for more relaxation for the patients. A tray for boots in the winter time is good, too,” said Dr. Grief.

8. Inexpensive water fountain. A fountain to burble quietly in the background—out of reach of the younger set, of course—does a lot to help create a calm vibe in the waiting room.

9. Bulletin board. Put up a nice big bulletin board where you, your staff and your patients can post wise sayings and funny stories. “Some of the stories from the back page of the Medical Post come to mind,” wrote Dr. Arsenault.

10. Plants—and keep them watered.