There’s a lot riding on branding and healthcare these days. As market competition intensifies and consumers are presented with more choices than ever on how and where to fulfill their healthcare needs, the pressure is mounting on organizations to create a strong branded experience that creates a good impression and keeps patients coming back.

Front and center in that experience is the waiting room and increasingly facilities are engaging designers and architects to create spaces that make patients and visitors feel comfortable, appreciated, and valued for their time.

So what sets one organization’s waiting room apart from another? I recently talked with designers who offered up these suggestions:

1. Better layouts: Offer a variety of settings for different social experiences, including niches for professionals looking to do some work on their laptops to kid-friendly nooks where parents and kids can pass the time without disturbing others.

2. Good lighting: Having a variety of lighting sources (including overhead, tabletop, and decorative) and bringing in natural light with views to the outdoors are sure ways to improve the overall feel of a space.

“If a space is over lit just like an office, it doesn’t feel soothing or comfortable,” says Christine Guzzo Vickery, vice president and senior interior healthcare designer with HGA Architects and Engineers (Minneapolis).

3. Hospitable furnishings: Efforts to provide a comfortable place to sit are easier with new furniture lines in a variety of styles, colors, and fabric choices. These options can also be used to support a branded look.

“Even though a gang set of chairs might be the least expensive option and can seat the most people, [clients are] recognizing that it’s worth it to spend money on something that makes everybody feel more welcome and comfortable,” says Erin Schmidt, interior designer, GBBN Architects (Cincinnati).

4. Technology: Designers say free Wi-Fi is a given these days and some facilities are going beyond that with places to easily plug in devices to use while waiting to see the doctor. Tablets with access to healthcare information and self check-in kiosks are also become more common in an effort to appeal to tech-savvy consumers.

And what about that TV mounted on the wall playing the latest daytime drama? According to a study originally published in the book Clinic Design: Enhancing the Patient Experience through Informed Design, by Gary A. Nyberg and Christine Guzzo Vickery, only 41 percent of respondent said they wanted to watch TV when sitting in a waiting room. Instead, the top sought-after activities were reading (95 percent) and using a mobile phone (57 percent).

5. Artwork: Another important feature that goes a long way in distinguishing an environment is artwork. Ideas can include photography of local landmarks or scenes from nature. Or use the opportunity to reinforce brand ties.

For a project for UC Health (Cincinnati), GBBN used a variety of branded walls and imagery to emphasize the provider’s affiliation with the University of Cincinnati college and its research and academic programs.

Designers add that artwork doesn’t have to be a budget-buster, either. Michelle Granelli, senior design director, Urban Chalet (San Francisco), suggests choosing a statement piece and then filling in with smaller, more affordable pieces to complete the furnished look.

One resource for budget-friendly pieces is the local art community, where you might find artists who are looking for exposure and willing to offer affordable prices.

The goal is to use a combination of materials, lighting, and furnishings that tie together and give a facility a look and feel that differentiates it from others.

“The whole experience creates a lasting impression,” Granelli says.