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A Physician's Reception Room Reflects the Practice


The reception room delivers a strong message about practice attitudes, priorities, and competence. It may not be the message you want to send.

The reception room is arguably the most important space in a practice because patients recognize it as an extension of the physician(s). It sets the tone for each visit and delivers a strong message about practice attitudes, priorities, and competence.

Reception room versus waiting room

Is it clear that the patient is an object to be warehoused or a welcome guest? Patients do not feel welcomed by a closed window with a sign-in sheet on a ledge.

Is the room cavernous? The unmistakable message is that the practice expects patients to wait to be seen, especially if patients fill the room. If the room is overfull, the message is that the practice is not in control of its schedule.

Greeting the patient promptly, and by name if possible, sets a welcoming tone. If being able to close a window is necessary, the practice can install some means of monitoring the door for entering patients.

A moderately-sized reception room, with just a few more seats than are usually required, reinforces the impression that a patient's wait will be moderate. It also reduces lease costs or frees up space for revenue producing activities.


A dated décor gives the impression that the practice's skills are dated as well. Stained carpet and upholstery call into question the practice's commitment to sanitation. Cheap furniture can mean the practice is unsuccessful or disrespectful of patients, while expensive furnishings can signal that the physician is making too much money.

Relatively traditional, good quality furnishings that can be kept clean are a good choice for most practices, depending upon the patient population and specialty. It is also important to regularly remove outdated and/or shabby magazines.


Is staff frantic, relaxed, or lethargic? Frantic does not inspire confidence, and lethargic is seen as indifferent. Both are unprofessional. Relaxed and alert should be the goal, and it may require attention to the practice's operations and staffing model.

I recently visited an office with the following message prominently displayed: "Do NOT ring the bell. We know you are here." Many offices have multiple signs with instructions, commands, and prohibitions. The message that the patient is an intrusion and an object of staff frustration is clear. The problem is not with the signs themselves, but with the message and numerous temporary notices.


Practices need a substantial amount of information from patients for multiple purposes. The forms utilized are often irritating and unprofessional.

One source of irritation is that the same information is requested at multiple visits. The impression is that the practice is avoiding its responsibility to maintain the patient's records by requiring the patient to supply the same information at multiple encounters. If the patient had a family history of diabetes last year, will he not have a family history of diabetes this year? Providing the patient with the information on file, and asking him to confirm or update it as necessary, is more palatable to the patient. It also avoids conflicting information within the patient's chart.

Another irritant is that there is a large amount of overlap in the information required on the various forms. It seems that the practice is pushing its burden of delivering data to multiple places off onto the patient. An ancillary problem is that the patient may not complete all of the forms or complete them inconsistently, compromising the integrity of the records. Designing the forms so that the patient supplies the information once, and the practice sends it wherever needed, is a relatively easy solution.

Unprofessional forms stem from two sources and the carelessness is disrespectful of patients:
• The form sets have been developed over time and have inconsistent formats and typefaces. Most often, this is a consequence of staff trying to cover bases with the least effort possible, and that is exactly the message conveyed.
• Forms have been carelessly copied from copies. They are skewed on the page and frequently have smudges.

Recommendations for improvement

Here are some simple tips to start taking a closer look at your reception area and what it says to patients:

• Make a point of regularly entering your office through the front door, as if you were a patient.
• Try completing the forms you ask your patients to complete.
• Note your reactions.
• Make the changes necessary to align the message you are sending with the one you want to send.

Find out more about Carol Stryker and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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