What are you waiting for?
Designing a safe and inviting reception area will better serve the needs of your patients and their owners.
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Visiting a veterinary clinic can be stressful for owners and pets alike. Waiting spaces are full of unfamiliar animals, smells and sounds that can overwhelm a sick or anxious pet. However, your practice can implement design strategies to help make the waiting area as pleasant and unthreatening as possible.
Cleanliness and infection control are critical to keeping animals and humans safe and healthy in your clinic, especially during the pandemic. Surfaces and frequently touched areas can harbor germs and bacteria, so choosing materials that can be easily sanitized is important.
Wood is warm and inviting but easily scratched or damaged by frequent cleaning. Metal chair frames offer the most resistance to damage and can be easily wiped down. Alternative materials also are available. Some furniture manufacturers offer plastic and aluminum frames that look identical to wood but offer superior durability and germ resistance.
Accidents happen when animals are involved, so waiting areas should be designed to be cleaned frequently, potentially with harsh disinfectants. Flooring should be a hard, non-skid surface like laminate or tile so that spills and pet accidents can be quickly cleaned. When upholstery is used, choose non-porous options like vinyl and polyurethane, which won’t absorb liquids or odors. Options graded for health care use last the longest and offer the most protection against chemical cleaners.
Waiting Room Alternatives
If the weather allows for outdoor waiting, consider providing a few benches where the owners of fearful or loud animals can sit. Installing a dog waste station with waste bags and a receptacle can keep outdoor spaces clean and prevent the spread of fecal-borne disease.
One recent trend is to eliminate the waiting area altogether and have visitors proceed directly into an exam room to wait for a provider. This has the benefit of eliminating conflict between animals and reducing stress and is much better for preventing the spread of contagious diseases.
A busy clinic that doesn’t have enough exam rooms might consider offering one as an option for animals that are very fearful or that might have a communicable condition. Another alternative for pets that don’t fare well in a busy waiting area is to have their owners check in by phone when they arrive and wait in the car.
First Impressions Matter
Try to provide a waiting area that encourages pets to remain as calm as possible. If space allows, consider separate areas for dogs and cats. A quiet alcove dedicated just to cats is ideal. Otherwise, a physical screen in larger areas can prevent eye contact between animals. Consider using a mobile divider so that it can be easily moved and adjusted, or build a permanent drywall partition. Alternatively, high-backed bench seating can divide cat and dog waiting areas. Some practices offer cat cubbies — spaces where cat carriers can be placed to minimize visual contact with other animals.
Diffusers with calming pheromones can help a stressed animal feel better about a visit to the veterinarian. These should not be confused with essential oil diffusers, which generally should be avoided. Lightly spritzing towels with a pheromone spray and offering them to clients to cover pet carriers is another way to help reduce stress.
Also, install leash clips in check-in and check-out areas so that visitors can easily complete paperwork.
Finishing Touches Add Warmth
A calming, welcoming waiting room provides a positive first impression of your practice and sets the tone for a good visit. Choose soothing natural colors for walls, décor and furniture. Many practices have a community board for posting pet-friendly events, adoptable animals or related services. Instead of generic pictures on the wall, consider getting permission to use pictures of some of your animals visitors.
Don’t forget that your human visitors want to be comfortable, safe and calm as well. A small refreshment station with single-cup coffee or water is an appreciated touch. Of course, containers with dog and cat treats are a must, too.
Instead of magazines that are touched by many people, a wall-mounted television can offer a positive distraction and potentially broadcast important patient education. Wall-mounted literature organizers can hold valuable information about services for pets and their owners.
Carve Out Display Space
If your practice sells retail items, make sure they are displayed prominently. Clients view you and your team as experts on food, supplements, grooming and behavior. Stocking products that support the needs of pets saves time for owners and can increase your profitability.
Product displays can be as simple as a few bookcases with neatly displayed items to elaborate wall systems. Be sure that your staff is trained to guide customers to the right items.
Designing a safe and welcoming waiting area is critical to keeping human and animal visitors comfortable and happy. Small modifications can change a stark and sterile space into one that reflects your practice’s commitment to good health for everyone who comes in.
Joanna Terry is director of health care and veterinary health sales at National Business Furniture. She is a health care and design professional with more than 20 years in the contract furniture industry.