Why do waiting rooms all look the same?
October 6, 2008 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Why do doctor's office, and dentist's office waiting rooms all look the same?

They all look alike: uncomfortable armchairs, ugly plants, little tables and a stand up lamp. They look totally uninviting.

Is it psychologically soothing? one giant furniture company? easy to maintain? Anyone design a waiting room here?
posted by joelf to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always assumed it was because the the designer and client (ie the doctor) didn't think it is important to spend money on waiting rooms. To make them nicer.

Or maybe they kids themselves that they aren't going to make people wait for 45 minutes - that their practice is going to be different. And then it's not.
posted by Xhris at 11:06 AM on October 6, 2008

Confirmation bias? I've been in many that were the way you describe, but some of the doctor/clinic/hospital waiting areas that we frequently visit were furnished in recent years, and they have more comfortable furniture and appealing design. The ones in the Methodist and the Memorial Hermann outpatient towers here in Houston are particularly nice.
posted by Robert Angelo at 11:25 AM on October 6, 2008

Because its a type of office furniture and thus you can save money by buying in bulk and buying what everyone else buys. In other words, its the reason most business offices in general look mostly the same too.
posted by vacapinta at 11:29 AM on October 6, 2008

What vacapinta said. They buy the furniture in bulk.

Some docs would consider it a bit gauche to have a tricked-out waiting room, as it could insinuate that your hard-earned money is going less to your health care than to beautifully upholstered chairs (on which someone's toddler will spit up.)
posted by desuetude at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

> The rugged, almost military couches and armchairs that are left over are the survivors.

My mom was a pediatrician and I can tell you that sonic meat machine is spot on. Furniture had to be sturdy and easy to clean, or it didn't last long. Aesthetics were secondary at best.

That said, I have seen some better and worse waiting rooms. Dermatologists and dentists seem to have the nicest digs, presumably because they need to woo out-of-pocket, discretionary-spending patients.

My GP, by contrast, has the receptionist behind one of those sliding-glass, might-as-well-be-bulletproof windows. Blech, way to make me feel relaxed. But he's covered by my insurance, and is a very good doctor, so I'm not going to switch just because I don't like the fung shui.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2008

Well, you’ve hit on an area with which I’m familiar. While not in the interior design side of things, we design for a bunch of medical practices.

Some practices simply want bare-bones cost-is-most-important style layout and furnishings.

Some practices are going to the newer spa/zen style design to enhance patient comfort. Especially when they are more financially well-off, or if they are a larger institution with greater per-foot allowance.

It seems to depend partially on the age of the docs in the practice and also the financial and interpersonal underpinnings involved in group practices.

And, the furnishings do have to be amazingly sturdy. We see increased concern with having wider doorways and larger/sturdier furniture to meet the need of the growing size of the population. No kidding there.
posted by mightshould at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2008

I work for an architecture firm that does medical offices. We do 200-300 projects a year, in a growing metropolitan area, with a staff of five designers. Certainly it would be nice to give a special touch to each project, but the fees and the schedules involved simply don't allow it. It's likely that any doctor's office you go to will have been designed by one of a handful of firms in the area, and they follow a fairly restrictive template in order to get jobs done on time and under budget and still make a living.

Some medical clients are willing to spend a little extra time or money to do something unique, but that is far from the norm.
posted by Chris4d at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2008

We redesigned our waiting room not that long ago for a research project, affiliated with a hospital. Most of our new furniture was donated by a furniture company, which was lovely of them and certainly nicer than the stuff we usually have available through the hospital's furniture warehouse. But the supply was definitely limited, so what we wound up with is not necessarily what we would have picked if someone had instead donated a wad of cash and told us to go wild buying whatever we wanted to make a great space for our research participants.

Comfort and sturdiness was definitely a factor for us. We have a lot of kids through, with a lot of behavior problems, and anything we buy needs to stand up to being jumped on / kicked / tantrumed at. And our research participants may spend all day in that room, so comfort is a must.
posted by Stacey at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2008

Simply put, the typical general practitioner/family doctor has zero incentive to spend any money on interiors. They get paid the same rate by private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid regardless of whether you wait for your turn in a plush leather sofa or a bed of rusty nails. At the same time there's so few of them that they don't need to compete for patients (a consequence of admission caps, long training, and greater profitability in medical specialization).

If you're unhappy with your dentist's waiting room, shop around. If you're willing to travel to more upscale neighborhoods or pay more out of pocket, you can easily find dentist offices that look as nice as hotel lobbies. There's a surplus of dentists so they have to compete for patients. A few of my friends graduating from dental school have started looking out of state to set up a practice because there are way too many dentists in California.
posted by junesix at 4:29 PM on October 6, 2008

Wanna see some sweet waiting rooms? Visit a few cosmetic dentistry specialists.

Although I've never been in the offices of high end plastic surgeons, it's my guess they're pretty nice too.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:59 PM on October 6, 2008

They don't always look alike--I can think of a couple in our area that differ from the norm (interestingly, both dentists). The dentist I used to go to had a waiting room that was designed to look like a theatre--plush flip-down seats, velvet curtains, big TV. My husband's dentist has an office that's built overlooking a waterfall and has a beautiful, high-ceilinged waiting room with comfy furniture and beautiful wall hangings. This dentist specializes in phobic patients (I'd go to him in a minute but he doesn't take my insurance) and I believe the office--and waiting room--layout is deliberately intended as part of the soothing experience. Might be a worthy investment for more dentists AND doctors.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:17 PM on October 6, 2008

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