Waiting-Room Woes Your waiting area for clients and parents can sometimes seem like a Wild West of noise, germs and scattered toys. Here are some tips for taming it. In Private Practice
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In Private Practice  |   November 01, 2017
Waiting-Room Woes
Author Notes
  • Robyn Merkel-Walsh, MA, CCC-SLP, is a solo practitioner, a school clinician for the Ridgefield Board of Education in New Jersey, and an instructor for TalkTools. She chairs the Board of Directors of the Oral Motor Institute, is a member of the American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology, and is the private practice chair for the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association. robynslp95@aol.com
    Robyn Merkel-Walsh, MA, CCC-SLP, is a solo practitioner, a school clinician for the Ridgefield Board of Education in New Jersey, and an instructor for TalkTools. She chairs the Board of Directors of the Oral Motor Institute, is a member of the American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology, and is the private practice chair for the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association. robynslp95@aol.com×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / In Private Practice
In Private Practice   |   November 01, 2017
Waiting-Room Woes
The ASHA Leader, November 2017, Vol. 22, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.IPP.22112017.38
The ASHA Leader, November 2017, Vol. 22, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.IPP.22112017.38
If you work in a private practice, you know all too well the woes of the waiting room. Feet on your furniture? Snacking clients and siblings? Dirty hands on the walls? Broken toys? Ripped magazines? Lingering parents? Noise that interrupts sessions? Bathroom disasters? Waiting rooms can sometimes become unruly even with adults, but in pediatric practices this is even more the case.
Setting the tone for staff and clients can alleviate these waiting-room woes. I realized I had to take action when my clients started arranging coffee dates in my waiting room during overlapping sessions.
We all want to make our offices inviting. But with a too-inviting atmosphere, parents may come early or stay late, allowing their kids to play while they read, talk on their cell phones or chat with other parents. Even early-arriving adult patients will catch up on phone calls. Distracted parents can lead to unruly children, and multiple phone conversations can quickly raise the volume in the waiting area.
Some offices have a public kitchen area for phone conversations and snacking—a real benefit for large practices—but in shared waiting rooms or smaller spaces, client activity can get out of hand.
I have a strategy for keeping my waiting room quiet, clean and organized.
Set policies
The first step in decreasing waiting-room woes is to have solid office policies that all clients sign before an evaluation and/or treatment. It’s often challenging to enforce policies, but if you are clear with your expectations in writing, you can decrease the chances of unwanted behaviors. By including waiting-room expectations in your office policies, and by reinforcing this with visual reminders (signs), your clients will learn your expectations and rise to the occasion.

The first step in decreasing waiting-room woes is to have solid office policies that all clients sign before an evaluation and/or treatment.

In and out
When you book an evaluation or treatment session, give clients a copy of the waiting-room policies and remind them of the policies before they arrive. Set limits on arrival and departure. Clients may think this is odd at first, but they will learn to appreciate the time and attention you give each session that is free of waiting-room interruptions.
For example: “The waiting room is available for caregivers and siblings while the client’s session is in progress. Please arrive no sooner than five to 10 minutes prior to sessions and exit immediately after treatment has ended to respect the privacy of all clients, and to help maintain a quiet environment for all clients receiving services.” Less time in the waiting room results in reduced noise and fewer waiting-room disruptions.
Cleanliness
Most germs come into the office through unwashed hands. Office policies and signs could simply read: “Please wash your hands before entering the clinic” or “First stop is the bathroom sink. Germs can be stopped faster than you think!” A hospital-grade hand-sanitizer dispenser mounted to the wall can also help keep germy fingers under control. There are several affordable models available.
Pleasant-smelling hand soaps in the bathroom are motivating for children and adults. Foaming soap or soaps that contain essential oils are more desirable than standard soaps. Organic and homeopathic companies make chemical-free hand sanitizers and soaps. Simple add-on items such as lavender hand lotion or salt/sugar scrubs can be a special touch for adult patients and parents that will motivate hand-washing. I have found changing the scents with the seasons is a much-appreciated gesture that keeps everyone on board with hand-washing.

When you book an evaluation or treatment session, give clients a copy of the waiting-room policies and remind them of the policies before they arrive.

It’s not a café
Food and drink—and the mess they often create—are strictly prohibited in my waiting room, and nuts are completely banned (even for my feeding sessions). Wall signs indicating this policy directly face clients as they walk into the office, and we send email reminders every four to eight weeks to ensure that all new clients are familiar with this policy.
We need to give verbal reminders every so often, especially to adults who think the rules exclude them. Coffee seems to be the biggest problem, and spilled coffee (especially with dairy products) is one of the hardest things to remove from carpeting. Try installing a water cooler to offer a safe and clean alternative for all to enjoy.
Bathroom blues
One strict policy in my office is that all children, no matter what age, must be accompanied by an adult to the restroom. (With teens, I ask parents to check the bathroom when they’re done.) Signs in the restroom remind clients to refrain from flushing anything but toilet paper, flush the toilet with the lid down and wash hands. A sign also asks clients to discard all soiled diapers and pull-ups in the garbage can outside the building. Friendly signs with comical cartoons help ease tension over bathroom issues.
I have had some uncomfortable conversations with clients who don’t follow these bathroom rules—however, overflowing toilets and hazardous waste usually warrant a face-to-face conversation. Prominently displayed germ-killing wipes and aerosol spray will make it easier for your clients to take care of embarrassing situations. Clients appreciate plastic bins with diapers, wipes, a few sanitary products and air freshener. Think of what you would need should a bathroom emergency occur.
Activities
The biggest challenge is keeping waiting-room guests busy without breaking the bank on toys and reading materials. Try some of these helpful ideas:
  • Find local parent/community magazines willing to provide monthly bundles of their publication for your office free of charge.

  • Have enough toys to occupy siblings and guests for 30–60 minutes, but not so many toys that they encourage lengthy stays. If you have a television, for example, guests may want to linger until the end of a show.

  • Toys that are easy to clean with antibacterial wipes and have no small parts are best. For example, large brick-shaped interlocking blocks are better than the smaller alternatives. Wood peg puzzles are better than 100-piece floor puzzles. Dolls without removable clothing and shoes are better than items that will quickly become undressed.

  • Place antibacterial wipes, paper towels and tissues in a decorative bin. Clients may not always use them, but they serve as a visual reminder to clean up when necessary.

  • Provide free Wi-Fi with a sign indicating the password. Send emails to your clients reminding them: “Bring your portable device, free Wi-Fi available—just don’t forget your earphones!” This will keep your waiting room guests entertained without much noise.

  • Books can be great entertainment, especially if you start a book-swap program among clients.

  • Post a sign that asks client to refrain from phone conversations. Example: “Please do not use your cell phones while sessions are in progress. Texting is welcome—just please set your phone to vibrate.”

Providing clear expectations and written reminders with signs and email blasts is the best way to mitigate waiting-room woes. Even clients who resist at first will welcome the clean and safe environment, and also learn to enjoy the peaceful time spent at your office.
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November 2017
Volume 22, Issue 11