Are you a pediatrician or pediatric dentist setting up shop. How do you decide how to decorate your office? As a designer, mural artist/ painter, student of developmental psychology, and mom I have some ideas.
My wild little four year old is easily distracted and highly intelligent. His pediatrician has a very simple waiting room. The walls are beige, the chairs are colorful and there are a few (easily washed) games, silly full length mirrors, and plenty of Highlights magazines. Charlie finds plenty to entertain him and hes usually in a good mood when we finally go in.
In comparison, the dentist office is insane. There are five computer game stations, a huge TV (generally playing an animated movie which is often too scary for my son), wildly colored walls (no murals), a giant salt water fish tank on the way back to the ‘chairs’ and lots of (not so easily washed) toys. The place makes him crazy and, so far, we haven’t managed a ‘successful’ dental visit. He doesn’t want to be separated from the TV, then he wants to spend hours with the fish and by the time we get to the hygienist he is already overwhelmed and upset. This is not wholly the fault of the waiting room but it doesn’t help.
There is a delicate balance between keeping kids entertained and overwhelming them.
Doctors want their offices to be fun; someplace the kids will look forward to visiting again but lets get real. No matter how many TV screens you have the shots are what the kids will remember. So, how about making your waiting room peaceful and nurturing instead of overstimulating. Parents may have to play or read with their kids while in the waiting room (instead of surfing on their smart phones) but isn’t parent/ child interaction something our doctors encourage anyway?
I do understand that there is a marketing element to all of this. Parents are drawn to offices that ‘entertain’ (we do like our smart phone time). If you are in private practice you need to market to parents who don’t want to spend an hour waiting with nothing to do. But, as doctors, you have an opportunity to enlighten us. Put murals on your walls, fill the office with washable hands-on toys and lots to read. Teach us, as parents, what will stimulate our children’s minds and keep them calm. Take clues from Highlights Magazine (and the like) instead of the latest kid’s design trends. Pediatric waiting rooms can be places to teach and explore. Murals of seascapes or landscapes are good. Keep your colors soft (no need for pastels but steer clear of overwhelming primary colors). Hide some little elves, butterflies or tiny dinosaurs in the image and have a list of things for the kids to search for in the mural while they wait. Ask your mural painter to create a ‘coloring page’ version of the mural for your patients to work on. Your receptionist can suggest that older kids write stories that could take place in the mural and have a contest every quarter (maybe post with winning stories on your blog). Do not over stimulate the kids with monkeys hanging from 3D vines or scary dinosaur heads popping out of the walls. Simple and subtle please.
Unlike preschool murals waiting room designs can’t be targeted to a specific age. A mural that will entertain a 12 year old boy might terrify a three year old. A mural directed at a three year old will make a twelve year old boy feel like he is visiting the ‘baby doctor’. A seascape, lush jungle, or countryside farm can entertain everyone and will scare no one if it’s done well. The older kids can imagine dinosaurs in the jungle while the toddlers can be mesmerized by pretty birds and those ‘hard to entertain 5 year olds’ can ‘search and find’ poison dart frogs and tiny bugs.