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Moffitt Cancer Center invests in decor to lower patient anxiety

When patients walk through the main entrance of the Center for Women’s Oncology in the Moffitt Cancer Center, new renovations may make them feel like they’re at a fancy hotel instead of a hospital.

Visitors are greeted by a concierge desk and a table with pitchers of water, sliced lemons and a basket full of fresh apples. Paintings of nature scenes dot the walls of the waiting room and the receptionists’ desks are placed behind frosted-glass windows.

Moffitt Cancer Center Director Johnathan Lancaster said the new waiting room dcor is intended to soothe patients’ anxiety.

“For a long time in cancer care, major cancer centers around the world were focused on shrinking tumors, killing cancer cells and cancer surgery,” he said. “While that’s obviously critically important, there’s been less attention paid to customer service aspect.”

The renovations are part of an increased emphasis on “patient-centric” care at the Center, Lynne Hildreth, department administrator, said. Many of the changes are a product of patient requests, gathered through surveys and time studies.

“We get our ideas from the patients,” she said. “We have a volunteer masseuse that comes to the clinic usually one day a week for chair massages in the waiting room. We try to have her come on our busiest days to try to alleviate the anxiety.”

Even the colors used in the waiting rooms were chosen for a specific purpose, Hildreth said. Natural colors like green, light brown and tan are used throughout the room and help calm patients who may be worried about their health.

“I think a lot of anxiety is worked up until you get to the appointment,” she said.

Pagers are also given to the patients while they wait. According to an article in the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Journal, receiving digital pagers reduces patient anxiety by allowing them to know exactly when they are going to be helped. This allows the patient to spend their time in the waiting room thinking about other subjects besides their uncertainty and anxiety.

Instead of playing television shows such as “Jerry Springer” or the local news in the background, Lancaster said the television is put on mute and plays a loop of nature scenes. Soothing music, such as jazz, is also piped through speakers in the waiting room.

Investments like the purchase of bathrobes instead of backless gowns are taken out of the Center’s clinical operations budget, but Hildreth said they are uncertain of the total costs of all of these improvements.

“I would be willing to bet that our costs on a per-visit basis are lower today than before (the improvements),” she said in an e-mail to The Oracle. “This was never a financial decision for us – our focus has been and remains on providing our patients with a high-quality, personalized and patient-and-family-centered health care experience.”

Along with the decorative improvements, the center has also added more educational resources for its patients.

A computer station near the back of the waiting room called the Health Education Resources (HER) Place provides patients with Internet access and helps them identify trustworthy websites regarding cancer, diet, exercise and clinical trials, Hildreth said.

“It’s like a small patient library. We have pamphlets, books and all sorts of great material in HER Place,” she said. “It isn’t fluffy robes and fancy coffee, but I think it adds to the patient experience.”

Lancaster said these improvements were not made to attract more patients, but rather to maximize patients’ experiences. He said the center opened in early 2009 and has been making “ongoing adjustments to (patient) feedback” since then.

“Things like this have been incredibly well-received,” Lancaster said. “Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do. It’s what our patients want, and we respond to that.”