Pause for a minute and think about the traditional doctor’s visit or clinic experience: A patient arrives, checks in at the registration desk, sits down in a chair or loveseat, and waits to be called back to an exam room. But what is that waiting period—and that traditional room full of chairs, flatscreens, and complimentary magazines—was gone?

“The days of the large bus-station style waiting rooms are over,” says Anita Rossen, senior designer at ZGF Architects (Seattle).

I recently spoke with Rossen and her colleague Dan Simpson, design principal, about their work on the Everett Clinic—Smokey Point Medical Center in Marysville, Wash. The project is a Citation of Merit winner in the 13th annual Healthcare Design Architectural and Interior Design Showcase. (For more on this project and the showcase, check out HCD’s September issue.)

In sharing some of the project details, Rossen noted that one of the project goals from the client was to take 30 percent of non-direct patient care space out of the building. Using a Lean approach to programming and design, the design team addressed this challenge with several solutions, including the addition of self check-in kiosks to speed registration and a clean layout and simple materials palette to make wayfinding as intuitive as possible.

But what also stands out in this 60,000-square-foot ambulatory care center is the replacement of traditional-sized waiting rooms with simplified and space-efficient “pause” areas outside each pod of exam rooms.

“If you get your flow right, you don’t have to be waiting,” she says.

So at Everett Clinic—Smokey Point Medical Center, patients check in and head to their assigned pod (each is color coded and numbered for identification) to go to an exam room. If an assistant isn’t already there to greet them and take them back to a room, a built-in bench with cushions is available for patients and guests to sit down.

The goal is to help achieve low to no volume wait times, and Rossen says she thinks it’s working by how quiet the facility is when she visits. “There are not a lot of people sitting there,” she says. “They’re getting in and getting out.”

As healthcare facilities and owners focus in on efficiency and patient satisfaction, it will be interesting to see if design strategies like these become more mainstream. Will creating the most efficient use of space mean eliminating some of today’s traditional service areas? Are the days of the patient waiting room numbered?

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An awards luncheon honoring the Citation of Merit winners will also take place at the 2013 Healthcare Design Conference in Orlando this November.