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Welcome to Your New Office?

New office
If you’ve been in the same location for a while, you probably take your office’s floor plan for granted. It’s hard to believe that your nondescript suite of exam rooms, grottos of office equipment, and ascetic reception area (don’t call it a waiting room) could qualify as “interior design.” But a well-configured medical office can boost staff morale and patient satisfaction. It can also have dramatic effects on practice productivity and profitability.

Older offices usually have constraints on how much redesign is permissible or even possible, but if your practice is ready to move into new quarters, think about the space you’ll need and how to optimize it. There are three principles to consider before calling the architect. These principles certainly aren’t the only ones to contemplate when designing new medical office space, but they’re often overlooked.

  1. Simple architectural concepts can lower costs. For example, exam rooms that are “mirror images” of one another reduce construction costs because the plumbing for both rooms is in a single wall.
  2. One-way traffic flow keeps things moving. The best medical practice office patient traffic flows in a loop. Patients arrive in the reception area, have their appointment(s), and arrive back in the reception area when they’re done. If your office traffic goes in one direction, there is less chance patients will get lost.
  3. Consider creating a staff entrance. This can be used to evacuate the office in an emergency, and it allows staff to easily come and go. When a physician arrives later than scheduled, he or she doesn’t have to take the walk of shame past his or her patients in the reception area.

A good floor plan is driven by a clear understanding of its purpose. It can be a challenge for physicians who’ve never thought about office space, but time spent thinking about how it should work can pay handsome dividends.

Developing a medical office building used to be fairly straightforward: The structure would be sized for leasing flexibility, wrapped in a “comfortable but not trendy facade,” and physicians signed on for discrete offices or in a condo arrangement. This may be why so many medical offices look the same.

Now the development process can take six months to a year or more—about half of that time will be spent locating the place, and the other half will be devoted to renovation. Proximity to a hospital might be important if the practice’s physicians are hospital employees or have privileges there. A location in a medical practice suite may be the best option if you receive referrals from other physicians. Suites for psychiatrists don’t require the same space as practices with imaging equipment.

Sophisticated medical instruments, or even a roomful of more mundane equipment, such as computers, copiers, and printers, can tax an outdated electrical system. Check the plumbing and wiring to make sure your new space—especially new space in a renovated building—will have all the power and water necessary for a medical office. Is there a plan for additional power or wider pipes if your office expands in the future?

Secure internet connectivity is a business necessity, of course. In addition, patients will want wifi access for their handheld devices—especially in the reception area. Providing this could also boost your practice’s patient satisfaction rates.

Even if you’re moving into a brand-new building with state-of-the-art everything, it’s just a matter of time before your first natural disaster, system failure, or other “unexpected event that changes business conditions.” Backup capabilities need to be considered before the move.

In addition to keeping the lights on and the essential computer systems online, continuity means having a plan for continuing to care for patients despite disruption. If seeing patients is still possible during that unexpected event, then continuity also means being able to document and bill for the care you provide during the disruption.

Start a disaster recovery plan matrix and consider as many calamities as possible, even if the chances of a particular event occurring seems remote. If backup power is necessary for days, not hours, can your office supply it?

Most physicians can’t consider every detail of planning for a new office, but the ideas offered here provide an overview of the kinds of things that can help practitioners in a new location stay busy, boost patient care, and increase staff satisfaction, sometimes even before the packing crates arrive.

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