I recently attended the Healthcare Design Conference in Washington, D.C. I attended six continuing education classes, saw new healthcare furniture from hundreds of vendors, and met with our healthcare focused Community of Practice group. These meetings are always very informative and energizing. Our session started with Michelle Ossmann, Director of Healthcare Environments for Steelcase Health, sharing Steelcase’s recent research on waiting spaces with Emory Transplant Clinic. Her research focused on seating preferences and perceptions in healthcare waiting spaces. The results were found through observation, interviews, and DOTT behavior mapping diagrams.

Despite years of environmental psychology proving that views of nature are the most desired seats, Michelle’s research showed that views of nature were the least desired seats. The most desired seats, were those that had a clear view of the side door. This is because the side door leads to the exam rooms, the operation rooms, the recovery rooms, etc. This door leads to information. The users of these waiting spaces are desperate and eager for information regarding their love ones or their own medical results. That information trumps the desire to see outside. The top needs for patients are control and information.

The DOTT mapping tool displayed trends of behavior. She noted individuals versus groups, activity type (reading, using iPad, filling out paper work, etc.), and density of waiting room. A reoccurring theme was that no matter the density of the room, people would do anything they could to prevent a stranger from sitting right next to them. People only occupy 70-80% of available chairs. The other 20-30% of chairs are “occupied” by bags or drinks, to prevent anyone from sitting next to them. People use seating as an interaction barrier. To no surprise, the placement of the television also plays a huge role in where people decide to sit. Different types of waiting spaces also dictate how the users choose to occupy the space. The users of a surgery waiting room have higher stress than a family practice office.

Michelle also found out that the perception that the users had of the waiting room directly correlated with their perception of the quality of care that they, or a family member, would receive. If they felt the waiting room looked nice, was well cared for, had nice lighting, etc., they felt that the quality of care would be the same.

Michelle’s work was fascinating and confirms many of the insights leading researchers have developed around waiting including tips for our industry to execute effective healthcare environments.

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By Michelle Smith, Designer

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