Improving the Healthcare Experience

By providing more choices and supporting a range of postures and activities, waiting spaces should be adaptable and productive environments that provide better healthcare experiences.

Application Ideas

Outpatient Surgery Center
Outpatient Clinic
Physician's Office
Primary Care



Healthcare experiences are made up of more than moments of care—they also include the time spent in transition between those moments. And these transitional spaces where patients and their families wait are often uncomfortable and unappealing, increasing feelings of stress and negative mindsets.1

Transition spaces offer a significant opportunity for improving the healthcare experience. By providing more choices and supporting a range of postures and activities—conversations, information sharing, getting work done, resting and relaxing, or using personal devices to stay connected with the outside world—waiting spaces should be adaptable and productive environments that provide better healthcare experiences.

1 Leather, P., Beale, D., Santos, A., Watts, J., & Lee, L. (2003). Outcomes of environmental appraisal of different hospital waiting areas. – Environment & Behavior, 35(6), 842-869.

Outpatient Surgery Center

Outpatient Surgery Center

Even routine surgeries can take several hours. For families, this waiting space has settings for a variety of activities.

  • Expend nervous energy. Instead of pacing, adults can expend nervous energy while they pass the time by using a workstation that’s also a low-speed treadmill.
  • Children’s zone. A zone for children with ottomans and a paper-topped coloring table is centrally positioned so parents stay close.
  • Storage. Lockers let family members store and retrieve personal items.
  • Social setting. Conversation, refreshment breaks, games and use of personal devices all happen easily in a social setting.
  • Consultation. A semi-private setting for consultation with the surgeon includes a monitor for sharing visual information is located just outside the surgery corridor.

Outpatient Clinic

Outpatient Clinic

Whenever people have an outpatient appointment, there’s an opportunity to prepare them for an optimized visit. A welcoming waiting space puts people at ease.

  • Self-service. Returning patients can quickly check themselves in or sign up for after-hours activities.
  • Administrative. For patients who need to fill out forms or have questions, a table behind the welcome desk is a comfortable, easily accessed setting where the patient and a staff member can interact.
  • Check-in. An open welcome desk makes the check-in experience feel friendly versus intimidating and institutional.

Physician's Office

Physician's Office

Patients and their families have many choices in this environment designed for purposeful activities.

  • Residential-style seating. Patients and family members can watch television comfortably in this familiar, residential-style seating configuration.
  • Child-friendly. A child-friendly setting with a paper-topped coloring table nestles between adult seating, keeping parents nearby while also able to comfortably converse or use personal devices.
  • Group Learning. After hours, this space does double-duty as a well-equipped and comfortable space for group learning sessions on targeted health topics.

Primary Care

Primary Care

When the time before an appointment is expected to be minimal, this setting allows patients and families to keep their eyes on the desk and still maintain physical separation from others.

  • Both self check-in and traditional check-in options are available.
  • When time will be short, a few settings are scattered throughout the space that provide access to worksurface-height tables and/or power for those who may be using the space for a slightly longer duration while the patient completes their appointment.
  • Multiple individual seats provide seating options for those who have come alone.
  • With much of the seating oriented perpendicular to the exterior view and the reception area, patients can maintain visibility to the check-in area, while also enjoying the views of nature.

Research + Insights

Group Settings
Productive Transitions



What We Observed

  • Chairs crowded in rows with little privacy
  • Seating used to hold personal items, mark territory
  • Minimal support for personal devices
  • Patients and family preferring seating with sightlines to information sources
  • Uncomfortable, unappealing environments with few positive distractions

What We Heard

“ There was no privacy while we waited for my dad’s surgery to be over. My mom was really anxious and needed to talk, but felt uncomfortable with everybody able to hear our conversation.” – Family

“ My time is valuable to me. I don’t want to sit and flip through old magazines while I wait for my appointment. I’d rather be able to stay on top of my email, answer my phone with some privacy, and stay connected to my work, my family and my life.” – Patient

“ Waiting rooms aren’t something we used to consider a valuable investment, but now we’re seeing that they are a hidden asset and can be a beneficial feature in a person’s experience at our facility.” – Provider



Technology in transition spaces promotes purposeful uses of time.

Whether used for self-directed check-ins, health history and other previsit assessments, distractions, surgery progress updates, or teaching/learning experiences, technology in transition spaces connects people and information. Well-integrated and managed technology can make a clinic visit more productive and efficient, support accurate information transfer, and allow people to pass the time.

Group Settings

Group Settings

People seek proximity to family, clear sightlines to information sources and separation from strangers in group settings.

People tend to separate themselves from strangers8 in group settings, while families prefer to sit in clusters to create intimacy and privacy.9 Patients and families also tend to prefer open sightlines to reception areas and clinical area entrances. In one case study, 15 to 30 percent of chairs in a traditional waiting room were used as privacy barriers or for personal belongings.9



Needs for physical and emotional comfort heighten while people are in transition.4

Environmental distractions and giving people a choice in what they do has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety.5 Calming colors, comfortable seating with spaces for personal belongings, soothing artwork,6 nature views and supporting technology use can all make transition environments feel less intimidating and help put people at ease.7

Productive Transitions

Productive Transitions

Productive transitions are not a one-setting-fits-all experience.

Television, noisy conversations or children playing nearby can be unwelcome for those who feel unwell or who wish to read, rest or work.10 One big, open room with chairs in straight rows is a template for an underperforming space. A variety of postures and activity options produces flexibility and control of the experience for patients and families, decreasing anxiety and making transition spaces beneficial assets for healthcare organizations.



360 magazine the wait is over Open image tooltip
November 13, 2015

New Insight Into The Patient Experience

Organizations are measured and reimbursed on how well they deliver patient experience. In an effort to increase their scores, many healthcare organizations have focused on renovated or redesigned patient rooms or clinical spaces. But they’ve overlooked critical spaces like waiting areas.
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January 21, 2016

Making Every Moment Meaningful

New technologies, new processes and higher expectations of both patients and practitioners is challenging healthcare norms to adapt and improve. The need for radical innovation has never been more critical.

Design Tips for Transition + Waiting Spaces

Create Inviting Spaces That Reduce Stress11

  • Provide comfortable settings and hosting amenities, including a space for items such as bags, personal devices or beverages.
  • Accommodate people’s preferences for varying levels of noise and other stimuli, creating quiet zones where people can retreat from sources of noise.
  • Create conversation areas where families can be together without the distraction of strangers.
  • Incorporate soothing materials, textures, colors, lighting and views.

Provide for Productive Transitions

  • Provide a range of settings appropriate for varying activities and durations
  • Balance organizational needs for seating density with people’s desires for diverse settings and various levels of privacy while they wait.
  • Provide seating with clear sightlines to doorways, clinician entrances and information desks.
  • Use modular furniture to divide the floor plate into smaller settings that support a range of activities.
  • Select furniture that supports activities and postures appropriate for the duration of the wait: work settings, lounge options, caf. tables, etc., for longer waits.
  • Optimize the real estate with flexible spaces that can accommodate after-hours learning sessions, health-related support groups, etc.

Leverage Technology

  • Include well-placed wall monitors to display information about the organization, health-related information and/or waiting updates.
  • Provide media settings for self-directed or group learning.
  • Support use of personal devices with easy access to power throughout the space.
  • Anticipate new and emerging technologies with an adaptive infrastructure.

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Additional Resources

Insights + Applications Guide

Healthcare is evolving at a rapid pace and changing on almost every front. As changing dynamics add complexity to an already complex industry, the challenges that healthcare organizations face are greater than ever. Addressing high-priority issues is key to developing a strategy for sustainable success. Our seminal Healthcare: Time for Change Insights + Applications Guide combines insights and practical solutions yielded from 18 studies and 15,000 hours of research.

View Guide

360 Magazine: Healthcare Special Edition

This Healthcare Edition of 360 is a compilation of 360 stories that explore the healthcare industry and the spaces where healthcare experiences occur. The stories demonstrate how space can be used to humanize the health experience in waiting rooms, exam rooms, patient rooms, clinician spaces and infusion therapy environments to create places that deliver greater connection, empathy and wellbeing for everyone involved.

Download issue

Steelcase Health

Healthcare is experiencing rapid change that can often feel overwhelming. At Steelcase Health, we look for the changes that are possible. We study the places that support health and then deliver insights, applications and solutions designed to create moments that can lead to change. Moments that enhance the wellbeing,empathy and connection of clinicians, patients and families.

Learn more about Steelcase Health