Waiting is a major part of the hospital experience. “The patient is waiting to go home, the family is waiting to get test results,” says Erin Peavey, researcher and medical planner at HOK (New York).  “Everybody is waiting their time out. So what is that experience like from these different perspectives?”

To study the impact of furniture and artwork on waiting, HOK partnered with American Art Resources (AAR; Houston) to conduct ongoing design research at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. One area that their research focused on was how the proximity of a visitor chair to the bedside impacts a patient’s experience. “We found if the visitor was at the patient’s head of the bed, the patient reported a higher quality of care,” she says. “Being able to see them face to face and hold their hand is important, and that’s fostered through the environments we create.”

The researchers also tested waiting room furniture and how types of seating affect people’s perceptions. In the first trial, the room was filled with single seats. In the second trial, keeping the total number of chairs almost identical, some of the single-seat chairs were swapped out for loveseats, with two chairs equaling one loveseat. In follow-up questionnaires, visitors reported that they didn’t feel like there was enough available seating when the loveseats were in place.

“Perhaps we need to look at whether those chairs are reducing the number of available seats overall,” she says.

Findings from phase 1 of the research were shared at the 2012 Healthcare Design Conference, and at this year’s conference, Peavey will be joined by AAR and Herman Miller to share phase 2 results in the session “Design Research Informs Furniture and Art Selection.”

Peavey says furnishings make up a small part of the construction budget but have a big impact on the experience, from how comfortable people are and how anxious or calm they may be feeling to the types of interactions that are available. They can also help show patients and visitors that you care. “Furnishings and artwork impact how people perceive and use the space,” she says. “We’re able to facilitate or hamper different types of activities, and we’re able to signify to people whether or not we care through these interventions.”

For more information, go to www.hcdconference.com.