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    Healing can begin in your waiting room

    Be aware how plants, television, music and artwork affect the patient experience

    Would you like to transform your waiting room from a place where patients wait for healing to a place where healing begins? With conscious effort, changes to this area of your practice can significantly improve your patients' experience and inspire healing even before you see them in the exam room.

    The average waiting room can be a sterile, stress-inducing destination. Listen and look around yours. Are patients exposed to hard rock music, magazine covers depicting war-torn bodies, large abstract paintings on white walls, or a receptionist impatiently addressing patients while eating behind a Plexiglas window? Any of those factors may be causing your patients undue stress. An anxious or ill patient can be negatively affected by subtle stimuli, so the typical medical waiting room can be an obstacle to effective treatment.

    In contrast, a purposefully designed waiting room can invite patients into a healing environment. Seashore drawings; games; green plants; soft music; and a receptionist greeting patients with a smile, professional attention, and an estimate of wait time—all convey a welcoming attitude. One study of parents who visited a waiting room with their children found that parents perceived the act of waiting as prolonging the pain and suffering of their children, but when staff informed parents of the reason for the wait, their perception changed.1

    Such considerations may appear to be trivial, but the effect on patients can be profound. Medical researchers have found that "the waiting room might best function not as an area where a captive audience can be bombarded with health promotion messages, but rather as a place for relaxation before consulting a health professional, making patients more receptive to health advice in the consultation."2

    Although you could invest considerable resources in improving your practice waiting room by purchasing new furniture or installing a floor fountain, inexpensive changes may be sufficient to enhance relaxation. Simple additions such as particular plants, music, and artwork can have a significant positive effect on patients.


    Former NASA scientist Bill Wolverton, PhD, conducted 25 years of research and found that specific indoor plants have the ability to purify air in enclosed environments. In his book How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office, he describes plants with such abilities, including English ivy, gerbera daisies, peace lilies, rubber plant, spider plant, sword or Boston fern, and the weeping fig.

    Placing a simple pot of ivy in your waiting room may promote healthy living and air purification. You also may use flowers to lift spirits and comfort patients while they wait to see you.


    An informal survey conducted in a variety of waiting rooms found that the presence of television adds to stress, especially when people believe they are unable to control the volume or programming. One study found that news programs that repeat violent events especially intensify physical discomfort.3

    If your waiting room includes a television, consider offering patients options. Rather than exposing them to specific programs at a certain volume, for instance, offer television with closed captioning or hygienic headphones on loan from the waiting room desk.


    As an alternative to television in your waiting room, consider adding music to improve patients' moods and the experience of waiting. Researchers have found that relaxing music promotes the release of endorphins and immunoglobulins. Many listeners describe relaxing elements as a slow and stable tempo, absence of percussive and accented rhythms, low volume level and soft dynamics, connected melodies, gentle timbre, and simple harmonic or chord progressions.4-6

    Music composed for relaxation purposes or commonly described as new age or classical often contains these elements,7 although classical music is a very broad category that can include music in which one or more of the aforementioned musical elements could be considered a "very arousing."4


    Artwork is the most visible addition to your waiting room walls. The impression it conveys can have a potent effect on patients and staff.

    In Putting Patients First: Designing and Practicing Patient Centered Care, S.B. Frampton and fellow researchers categorize relaxing art as waterscapes, landscapes, flowers, and "positive figurative art (depicting emotionally positive faces, diverse and leisurely in nature)." Many perceive modern and abstract art as less visually relaxing, and some even find it disturbing.8

    Because of the potentially profound benefits that could arise from simple changes to your waiting room, rather than accept the status quo of an environment for collecting data and asking patients to sit beneath the chatter of CNN, take a fresh look at this area of your practice and consider the subtle messages it communicates. Take steps to change your waiting room environment to nurture patients and enhance relaxation so that waiting portion of the patient visit can become a time of rest and healing.

    Don't let the matter of cost overly concern you, because most of these changes are inexpensive. You even may be able to obtain donations or grants to undertake them.

    Simple changes may not only improve your patients' individual medical experiences; they also may enhance your overall medical practice as patients become more receptive to health advice you provide in your consultations with them. If you undertake such initiatives, your waiting room could become a model of compassion and healing worth replicating—and definitely worth waiting for.


    1. Bentley J. Parents in accident and emergency: roles and concerns. Accid Emerg Nurs. 2005;13:154-159.

    2. Wicke DE, Lorge RE, Coppin RJ, Jones KP. The effectiveness of waiting room notice-boards as a vehicle for health education. Fam Pract. 1994;11:292–295.

    3. Ragonesi AJ, Antick JR. Physiological responses to violence reported in the news. Perpet Mot Skills. 2008;107:383-395.

    4. Radocy RE, Boyle JD. Psychological Foundations of Musical Behavior 4th ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas; 2003.

    5. Staum SJ, Brotons M. The effect of music amplitude on the relaxation response. J Music Ther. 2000;37:22–39.

    6. Wigram T, Pederson IN, Bonde LO. A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley; 2002.

    7. Burns J, Labbe E, Williams K, McCall J. Perceived and physiological indicators of relaxation: As different as Mozart and Alice in Chains. Appl Psychophysiol and Biofeedback. 1999;24:197–202.

    8. Hathorn K, Upali N. What is evidence-based art? Facility Care. 2007;12.

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