Kid-friendly waiting areas in ED boost satisfaction

Video games, bright colors make ED visits easier

Making your ED’s waiting area more child-friendly can have a tremendous impact on patient satisfaction, make your department more of a draw for children and their parents, and even ease staff’s stress when caring for the youngest patients, according to ED managers who have remodeled with children in mind.

The best part of the idea is that you can do it for very little expense, even no additional costs if you were planning to remodel your waiting area anyway. And the results can be dramatic. At WakeMed, a hospital in Raleigh, NC, the children’s ED consistently scores higher than 90% on patient satisfaction surveys, and the kid-friendly design is a major reason, says. Janice Frohman, MS, RN, administrative director for emergency services.

Though WakeMed’s project was a large endeavor — opening an entirely new children’s ED — many of the successful strategies could be employed by ED managers who want to make their waiting areas and treatment rooms more kid-friendly, she says.

WakeMed administrators already had decided to open an ED specifically for children when Frohman realized the plans could be more kid-friendly. The ED was intended to serve the specific clinical needs of children, but its original design was typical of any adult ED. "We went back and redesigned it for children. I met with the architect and said I wanted it to look like a children’s hotel in the lobby," she adds. "Coming to the hospital can be scary for kids, and this helps when it’s an environment that makes them feel welcome and comfortable."

That comfort factor means creating an ED that looks more like an elementary school or a day-care center than a slick clinical facility. The whole area is designed with bright colors and cheery artwork, and there is a waiting area that includes kid-sized furniture (readily available from many manufacturers) and video games.

The new design is paying off for WakeMed, says Frohman. Before opening the children’s ED, the hospital was seeing about 19,000 children per year in the ED. Now that number is up to 44,000 per year.

"I think it’s mostly because we have dedicated children’s services and an ED that kids don’t mind coming to," she says. Parents want to bring their children to an ED that makes the experience as pleasant as it possibly can be, she says. "We have kids who come and don’t want to leave," Frohman says.

You shouldn’t have to spend any more money on the effort than you would spend on a routine remodeling project, she says. When the waiting area furniture starts looking ratty and you have to buy some new sofas, use some of that money to buy child-sized furniture instead. Add a wall unit with built-in toys and maybe a video game or two, and you’ve created a child’s waiting area.

Video games and television sets can be bought for as little as $500 total, she says, and they hold up well to constant use if the main units of the games are locked into a cabinet and only the control devices are handled by the children.

Frohman even saved money on the extensive artwork found throughout the ED by inviting children from local schools to paint murals, clay tiles, and other decorations, with supplies provided by the hospital. Not only was the work done for free, but more importantly, the overall effect is very child-friendly.

"EDs don’t have to look like EDs," she says. "All the work is in trying to think like a child, coming up with a good design. Cost is not really an issue."

The same philosophy was used by Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, CA, when it recently redesigned and expanded its ED. Since the entire area was being remodeled, there was no additional expense in creating a specific waiting area for children, says Betty Jo Torres, RN, clinical director of the ED.

The hospital spent about $5,000 on the children’s waiting area, but that money would have been spent on adult furniture for the waiting area otherwise, so there was no net cost.

Much of the children’s area is made up of a corner unit that’s about 5 feet tall, painted in bright colors to suggest a seascape. The unit has games built into the walls of the structure, and there is a television for showing children’s videos. The children’s corner also has child-sized furniture.

"We’re not sure about providing toys because of the infectious disease issue, so we probably will issue disposable crayons and coloring books," Torres says. "The whole area is in plain view of the rest of the waiting area, so the adults can keep an eye on their kids."

Though Verdugo Hills is a pediatric-designated ED and sees a lot of children, Torres notes that the children’s waiting area benefits adult patients who must bring their children with them. The staff benefits as well, because the children are occupied and in better moods when it comes time to treat them.

"We felt if we could provide a more comfortable environment for kids, the parents would be more comfortable as well," she says. "Everyone is more at ease, the kids have something to do, and the parents are not screaming at the kids. It makes a big difference," Torres adds.


For more information, contact:

  • Janice Frohman, MS, RN, Administrative Director for Emergency Services, WakeMed, 3000 Newburn Ave., Raleigh, NC 27610. Telephone: (919) 350-7964.
  • Betty Jo Torres, RN, Clinical Director, Emergency Department, Verdugo Hills Hospital, 1812 Verdugo Blvd., Glendale, CA 91208. Telephone: (818) 790-7100.