There’s a simple, unavoidable fact you need to face: if your waiting room isn’t as upscale as the living room your patient just came from, you need to redecorate. Unless you’re working in a clinic that serves the homeless, this eliminates Ikea as a decorating resource. Ikea furnishings, as your patients well know, are cheap. Since your patients will unconsciously equate you with your waiting room, you will be perceived as a cut-rate practitioner and they might resent paying what you truly deserve for your services. A dignified, waiting room creates the understanding that valuable, superior service will be rendered. Patients are also less likely to resent waiting a little longer in an esthetically pleasing environment, when their doctor is running late.
So, how do you redo your reception area? You will first need to visit high-end medical offices for inspiration, purchase several interior design magazines (cut out the pics of offices you’d like to emulate) and watch a few dozen episodes of HGTV. Decide on a theme (Asian, contemporary, etc.) and a color palate, and paint one or two walls with a pale, calming accent color. At a recent “promote your practice” seminar in San Francisco, a well-known teacher advised attendees to buy “blooper” paint in an effort to economize. Don’t do it! The psychological implications of settling for an environment colored by someone else’s mistake should be pretty obvious. Don’t be haphazard: find room in the budget for your color.
Next, you’ll visit (at least) mid-range furniture warehouses (avoid laminates, excessive gilt and bamboo and faux anything, as well as glass tops on tables) and attempt to buy the floor model of whatever you find—a cash payment will sometimes clinch the deal. Used hotel furniture warehouses can offer terrific bargains, as can “scratch & dent” stores. For accessories, visit flea markets and antique stores. Don’t be afraid of antique stores; remember, an antique is anything with dust on it. Floor lamps must be new, sleek (stark white shades only) and will frankly cost you a few bucks. But patients will notice. They will also notice the few antiques (try to avoid copper bed pans, rusty railroad spikes and Aunt Jemima bobbleheads) you’ve placed around the room and will ask where you got them. The answer to the question, “Where did you get it?” must always be the same: “Oh, it’s been in the family forever.” The same answer applies when patients ask why the receptionist (who happens to be your mother) bears a resemblance to you. One technique for deciding if a room does or doesn’t work is to take photos and examine them. Have your friends examine them and tell you what does/doesn’t work visually. The camera doesn’t lie.
An alternative to the high-end scenario is to provide furnishings that are so exotic that nobody can place them. Wooden carvings and hand-dyed textiles in a saffron-tinted room will transport the patient away from all familiar references. But remember: your patients will know if you got that hand carved Quan Yin from Cost Plus and they’ll turn her over to see if she was on sale (wouldn’t you?). Either way you go, all allusions to political/religious beliefs must be banished from the space; this includes your literature display, which should be TCM-oriented.