Nobody likes waiting - everyone can agree on that. Everyone also agrees that first impressions are important in setting the tone for an experience. So why ask patients, right after they have come in and announced themselves, to take a seat in the “waiting room?” Why use language that prompts negative connotations in the mind?

dental patient waiting room

This might seem like an exercise in pointless semantics, but of course the language we use plays a big part in the perceptions we create. That’s why airports have “departure lounges” - they don’t want to remind people that they are there to wait. So call it a “lounge,” call it a reception area, or simply say, “please have a seat” and leave it at that. But try to abolish the “waiting room” from your practice. It’s an important first step in creating the right perception and the right expectations for the arriving patient.

Just as important as how you speak about your reception area is how it speaks about you. More and more, I am seeing dentists who recognize the importance of creating an appealing environment and are investing in facility makeovers that really speak to their value. That’s great to see, but it’s important to remember that it’s about a lot more than color schemes and comfortable furniture.

For one thing, a personal acknowledgement is important. Even if all front desk staff are on the phone, a simple nod and a gesture toward the seating area - followed by a personal welcome when the call is completed - is all it takes to make patients feel noticed and not ignored. And of course, a well-appointed welcome area does not, in the patient's mind, make up for a practice that is habitually behind schedule.

With that in mind, a welcome area should be relaxing and at the same time tell a story - a story that sends a message that the patient is in the right place. To do that, you have to be mindful of the details. For instance:

  • Magazines: In a time when most people spend spare moments on their phones, there is the question of how necessary it is to provide them. Often, a selection of quality coffee table books is a better choice. But if you are going to have magazines, have a thoughtful selection, not just celebrity gossip and Reader’s Digest, and make sure they are nicely arranged or in a display rack. Ensure someone on the team is tasked with refreshing the selection regularly and removing the worn and tattered copies.
  • Patient education videos: Videos are practically irresistible to anyone who is in a space with little other stimulation. So instead of playing TV news channels on your screen, use the opportunity to present videos that educate the patient on the kinds of procedures you provide. Spear has invested a lot of time and research into developing videos that illustrate the how - and why - of dental procedures in a compelling way.
  • Wall photos: By all means, display art pieces on your walls that reflect your esthetic tastes. But don’t forget to use some wall space to showcase your own clinical esthetic success stories. Give prominent space to a “Patient of the Month” for instance, with before and after smiles and a brief description. Replacing the display monthly helps keep the environment fresh. One practice I know also likes to display candid photos of team members on vacation or engaging in sports and hobbies; they have found those to be great conversation-starters.
  • A practice value book: This is something that should be in the reception area of every restorative and specialist practice - a simple booklet introducing your practice and the team and presenting several page spreads of your best work, with before-and-after and candid shots of real patients. It’s the kind of thing that is easy and inexpensive to produce using online services or a local printer, and it quickly pays for itself when patients pick it up and take it home or share it with friends. I’ll have more to say about this idea in a separate article.

These are just some examples of how you can transform those few minutes at the beginning of a patient visit from “dead time” into an experience that primes the patient with the right value. Again, it’s not a “waiting room.” Because if you’re doing it right, your patients are not just waiting - they are immersing themselves in your culture and in the possibilities that come with being a patient in your practice.

(Click this link to read more dentistry articles by Imtiaz Manji.)