How to evaluate waiting room furniture

Prioritize safety & comfort when buying waiting room chairs.

When designing the waiting room at your practice, one of the most critical aspects is the seating you choose. Safety and comfort should be your top priorities. You want your patients to feel welcomed and cared for from the moment they enter your healthcare facility.

With the variety of chairs now available on the market, your options can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you during your search.

Start with the Frame and Foundation

A good chair starts in the frame. Most quality chairs either have a wood or metal frame. Steel is the most common metal of choice for chair manufacturers. Keep in mind that the smaller the gauge, the stronger the steel. A typical range you will see for chairs is 16-to-18-gauge steel, which usually holds around 1,000 pounds or more.

In addition to the frame, most chairs have a seat foundation and back built with wood. Pay attention to the product specs to see what materials were used in the foundation. Industrial grade plywood is typically your sturdiest option; however, many chair manufacturers use imitation particle board, strand board, or artificial composites to save money that will not last as long as real plywood.

Keep Comfort in Mind

While durability is important, your patients will appreciate comfort most. A strong foundation and frame do not guarantee the chair will be comfortable; rather, the foam in the seat is what ensures comfort. Foam provides a vital padding between the hard seat foundation and the person sitting on the chair.

Be aware that some chair manufacturers use remanufactured foam in their seats. This reused foam will break down more quickly than virgin foam. It is also not as firm to begin with, thus reducing comfort levels. Some manufacturers will go the extra step of creating a double layer of foam for added support. Pay attention to the product specs or reach out to the supplier for additional information.

Consider Safety and Health

Healthcare facilities rely on disinfection procedures to keep patients safe, but some materials are harder to clean than others. Certain materials will be damaged by harsh chemicals. Wood is especially difficult to properly disinfect without harming the finish. Steel, on the other hand, stands up to most cleaners.

When it comes to upholstery, fabric is not a good material for most healthcare waiting rooms. It is difficult to properly disinfect and tends to harbor bacteria. You are better off choosing vinyl or polyurethane upholstery.

Another vital safety component is chemical emissions. Some chairs emit dangerous levels of chemicals, polluting indoor air and endangering patient health. Luckily, there are independent organizations that test chair and furniture emissions. Look for certifications from organizations such as Materials Analytical Services, LLC, which offers the MAS Certified Green emissions testing program.

Research the Supplier’s Reputation

The last thing to consider before you make a purchase is the supplier’s reputation. While there are many honest vendors, there are also some who cut corners, use the cheapest materials possible, and refuse to offer a meaningful warranty. In extreme cases, I have even seen chair vendors go bankrupt and fail to deliver paid-for products. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of who you’re working with when you purchase seating.

Here are some questions to get you started with vendor research:

  • When was the company founded (i.e., how long have they existed)?
  • Have they ever declared bankruptcy?
  • Do they have a significant number of bad reviews?
  • What type of materials do they use in their products?
  • Do they offer a formal warranty that is easy to understand and use?

Are they the original manufacturers or a reseller? While resellers may not necessarily be an issue, they do not have control over the quality of the chairs.

Choosing waiting room seating can be a more complex process than anticipated. Keep these criteria in mind as you’re comparing different vendors. While higher quality models are more expensive, the up-front investment will pay off in the future with increased durability and quality.

Ultimately, it comes down to value. You must carefully balance price, durability, and comfort to provide a good experience for your patients.

About the Author:
Dr. Tom McElheny has an MBA and a doctorate in education and serves as the CEO of his seating company, ChurchPlaza. ChurchPlaza primarily serves faith-based organizations and provides seating for healthcare, event venues, funeral homes and other industries.