What does your waiting room have to do with dental practice marketing?

Helping patients to relax in your waiting room while they wait for treatment can work wonders for your practice.

Aug 28th, 2014
Comfortable Waiting Room

Everyone knows what it’s like to be stuck in rush-hour traffic or a long line at the supermarket checkout. Waiting is no fun, but it isn’t always possible to avoid it. Dental appointments often take longer than expected. To make matters worse, many patients feel anxious about going to the dentist.[1] It isn’t just the prospect of pain that worries them, but also that treatment might be costly. The longer patients must wait in an uncomfortable environment, the more tense they become before treatment.

According to Vitals, a health care market research company, people in Alaska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota spent the least amount of time in waiting rooms in 2013. On average, they were treated after only 16 minutes. The longest waiting times were in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, where patients spent almost half an hour in the waiting room.[2] Patients sometimes become resentful when dentists fall behind schedule.[3] But daily schedules are often influenced by emergencies or changes at the last minute, when treatments become more complicated than anticipated.

When managing their time, dental practices use two methods. One is providing a sufficient cushion between appointments, but if patients fail to show up, that approach can lead to empty time slots. The second option is to overbook the schedule to avoid empty periods and operate more efficiently. However, this can backfire and translate into long wait times and upset patients.[4]

One way to make patients feel better during their time in the waiting room is to make it as pleasant as possible. By providing comfortable furniture and things to do, dentists can distract patients from their nerves and anxiety.

Modern furniture welcomes visitors
Patients come to a dental practice as guests. Dentists should ask themselves an important question – where would I rather wait for a possibly unpleasant treatment, in a sterile hallway or a living room? It’s relatively easy to design a waiting room with a relaxing atmosphere. Comfortable furniture invites patients to sit down and feel almost at home. Homey features such as plants, warm lighting, and attractive wall decoration round off the mood. A consistent color scheme that harmonizes with the furniture creates a good effect and helps patients mentally prepare for treatment. The color green, for example, triggers feelings of calm and security. A soft yellow gives a room a sunny and positive mood. On the other hand, red tones negatively affect the nerves and pulse.[5]

Reading and doing puzzles may avoid frustration
No matter how long they have to wait, it’s more pleasant for patients to entertain themselves than to simply sit. A few simple steps by dentists and their teams will make time pass more quickly for patients in the waiting room. For instance, current newspapers give patients the chance to catch up on the latest news.

A selection of puzzles provides another form of entertainment. Quizzes and pens can be kept in a decorative basket. Prizes, such as a free cleaning, can be a special incentive to motivate visitors to solve puzzles.

Feeling relaxed while sitting in the treatment chair
According to a study at the University of Montreal, patients who listen to music before a dental treatment have fewer stress hormones than those who take medication to calm their nerves.[6] Unlike drugs, the positive effect of harmonic sounds on the human brain causes no side effects. Quiet radio or relaxation music in the waiting area helps patients gain control over their anxiety. People often go directly to the dentist from their hectic lives. Bottled water or a water cooler can offer refreshment for people on the go, or for those who are anxious.

Patients mentally prepare for treatment while in the waiting room. If they feel comfortable and can pass the time pleasantly, this will work in the dentist’s favor because it creates customer loyalty and helps win new patients. They will return regularly and, in the best case, recommend you to others.

ALSO BY ANITA MAECK AND KATHARINA SCHMIDT:
Make a positive impression on dental patients with an excellent phone presence
What patients expect from their dentist: The overall impression needs to be right


Anita Maeck, left, and Katharina Schmidt are editors at “dieleutefuerkommunikation,” a communication agency in Sindelfingen, Germany. They write for Sulzer Mixpac Ltd., a leading manufacturer and supplier of cartridge-based metering, mixing, and dispensing systems and disposable mixers for reactive multi-component materials. Find more information about Sulzer on sulzer.com/microsites/tips-for-dentists. If you have questions, email Katharina Schmidt at kschmidt@dieleute.de or Anita Maeck at amaeck@dieleute.de.

[1] The Huffington Post: “Dental Phobia: 7 common fears, and how to conquer them.” 2012. Accessed: July 14, 2014
[2] Vitals: “Shortest Average Wait Time for Doctors Increased to Over 16 Minutes.” 2013. Accessed: July 11, 2014
[3] zm online: „Communication with Patients with Fear of Dental Treatment." 2014. Accessed: July 11, 014
[4] KevinMD.com: “Long waits at the doctor’s office disrespect patients.” 2012. Accessed: July 11, 2014
[5] Moxzee: “The colors in dental marketing.” 2012. Accessed: July 11, 2014
[6] CNN: “This is your brain on music.” 2013. Accessed: July 11, 2014

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