There’s wisdom in applying proven best practices to new design projects while continuing to search for better solutions. One area in healthcare where this is most needed is the waiting room.

Historically, waiting rooms were dismal, uncomfortable spaces where, too frequently, patients and family members sat for long periods of time waiting to receive care or get test results. Somewhere along the way, a clever marketing executive (or someone with nefarious intent, depending on your perspective) came up with the idea of giving this captured audience a “positive” distraction by turning the ubiquitous waiting room TV into an informational device that plays educational segments on the “disease du jour” or healthy cooking videos in a loop of content that repeats every 20 minutes. It’s a seed of an idea headed in the right direction, but still a far miss in terms of how to improve the waiting experience.

Thankfully, over the past few years, a great deal of thought has gone into reimagining the waiting room, and some creative solutions have resulted.

One is the self-rooming concept, where patients check themselves in and proceed to an exam room on their own, thereby eliminating the waiting room process. This solution not only gives patients an element of control over their experience, but it also allows for the reallocation of waiting space as exam rooms or educational areas. Like any new model in healthcare, this can only be successful if changes are also made to the operational flow, so patients aren’t just left sitting in exam space rather than the waiting room.

Another solution is the introduction of a multifunctional “town center” in place of the waiting room, where educational components such as a marketplace selling fresh fruits and vegetables or kiosks that provide health-related goods are located. Technology has also been enlisted to take the place of the medical assistant coming into the waiting room and calling out a name, with solutions like a simple paging device, similar to those given to you at a restaurant, or text messaging used to alert patients that it’s time for their appointment. This allows them to spend their waiting time just about anywhere nearby.

These different ways of interacting with incoming patients allow facilities to leverage square footage previously dedicated solely to waiting and instead use them to encourage patient empowerment and support a healthier and more active lifestyle. By establishing these new waiting room options, healthcare facilities are becoming a primary partner in a community-based, interconnected system that provides increased patient touch points and increased collaboration within the healthcare system itself.

The healthcare design industry needs to continue to rethink how we use the space available to us as we design for a rapidly changing and still unknown healthcare landscape to best leverage it for successful outcomes. By continuing to test new theories and invest some time after new projects are built to evaluate what worked and what still needs to be improved, we can continually evolve these spaces and challenge our preconceived notions. Even a small paradigm shift can have an exponential impact.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at DLEVIN@HEALTHDESIGN.ORG.