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Designing Your New Medical Office

Medical offices are constantly changing. From EHRs that have replaced paper charts, to mobile devices and video chat capabilities, the healthcare space is always transforming. However, how does that impact the physical design and space requirements of a healthcare facility?

Today, the exam room has become the center of the interaction with the patient and it has grown in size because of the nature of the work being done there. The old way of simply inserting a small lab station or an extra exam room is over. In 2021, the theme is creating a design that suits the individual needs of your practice.

If your resources are limited, there are still several new build or redesign strategies that you can deploy to help improve the function and flow.

Changing Needs for Space

The incorporation of new technology means that the need to improve patient flow and staff efficiency has never been more of a priority. Think about how your facility needs to be set up to accomplish this.

The Physician Office

A lot of doctors no longer have a dedicated office like how they did years ago. Often, several physicians will share a single space for patient consultations, freeing up real estate for more exam rooms where providers can brief clinical staff on the next steps for their patients.

Private Patient Registration Area

Placing your patients too close to registration could compromise patient privacy. Due to HIPPA privacy laws, many practices opt for a second registration area that offers more privacy for check-in, payment, and discussion of medical information.

Cloud-based IT Solutions

Practices today are considering cloud-based solutions. You may not have the space to fit a server room with computer equipment such as printers, fax machines, and scanners. If a practice selects a cloud solution, they may only need a local area network (LAN) and devices with Wi-Fi capability, like tablets or laptops.

Patient Flow

Sometimes building a new facility is better than redesigning an old one. A well-designed practice has multiple benefits from both a patient and staff perspective. Eliminating chartrooms can open up space for things like multiple waiting rooms, consultation rooms, and separate check-in and check-out areas. All of these suggestions can help to significantly improve patient flow and staff ergonomics.

Choosing to build self-contained patient registration rooms that are separate from the greeting area at the front desk facilitates patient flow. After patients are registered, you can choose to move them to a second waiting room, big enough to accommodate family members or escorts for patients undergoing an outpatient surgical procedure. This will make it so that patients aren't sitting around in a crowded waiting room wondering how long they will wait to be seen.

Consider having a fixed computer in each exam room. By doing this, you can eliminate the need to consult physical charts and even schedule follow-up appointments or run diagnostic testing without the patient needing to return to the front desk. Having a computer system in the exam room provides medical staff access to information no matter where they are.

Technology Considerations

Decide early on what types of technology you want to include. It is always better to know what your design needs will be upfront rather than having to go back and retrofit your space because of technology changes or additions. It is always a good idea to speak with a tech expert before starting construction.

Aside from the benefits of EHR, new technology can facilitate patient comfort, satisfaction, and expedite patient registration and insurance verification. It is also a patient pleaser. For example, in-office Wi-Fi made available to patients with a guest login, allows them to use personal mobile devices like smartphones and tablets while waiting for the physician.

Patient registration tablets or kiosks allow patients to register, pay their copays and deductibles, and complete social and medical histories, and even fill out short patient surveys at the conclusion of their visits. Practices should be wired with Ethernet cables which allow for greater and faster data transfer. Ethernet cables are also much more secure than a wireless connection which is why the recommendation is to use fixed computers over laptops if funds permit.

Patient Portal or Phone Tree?

The advent of the patient portal was a game-changer for physicians and their practices. Now, it's possible for patients to leave secure messages for their physicians and/or nursing staff using the portal. Patients can also receive an e-mail notification that their question or request has been answered. However, not all practices have implemented this portal. Without it, that means a large front office with plenty of room for telephone operators.

A lot of practices use automated attendants to answer routine phone calls, refill prescriptions, or schedule an appointment. Depending on the number of physicians in your practice and the size of their patient panels, this could mean a lot of incoming phone calls.

Having a live operator can help to better connect with patients by having their calls answered by a live person. Monitoring phone calls so you know how many calls are dropped will let you know if you should change your approach to a different system or have additional staff during particular times and days.

First Steps

What are the first steps once your practice has been approved a plan for a new build/redesign? First, consider a healthcare architect as opposed to a regular one. They will know the specific nuances and details that go into a healthcare facility. It is vital that the practice has a clear vision about what it wants and needs from a new space. It is also critical to have input from staff members so that their voices and opinions are heard too. These details trickle all the way down to the person who will be greeting your patients.

Once done, the best way to proceed is to create individual teams that will take on decision-making responsibility for elements such as physical layouts, color palettes, selecting furniture, job timelines, and deciding on budgets.

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