Magazine article Medical Economics

Office Design That Works

Magazine article Medical Economics

Office Design That Works

Article excerpt

Smart choices can mean you'll be earning more but walking less-even in a bigger space.

When internist Henry Walters in Statesville, NC, commissioned a new office a few years back, he said, "Make it bigger."

"I wasn't looking for a Taj Mahal, but I wanted something that would make me more productive," says Walters, a member of the 80-doctor Piedmont Healthcare group who practices in a solo facility.

Walters' practice has indeed become more productive, and extra space is a big reason why. He and his nurse practitioner Cathy Wayand now share six exam rooms compared to five in their old quarters. And they see eight additional patients a day between them. A procedure room allows Walters to perform more tests-treadmill, pulmonary function, and bone density-as well as other ancillary services.

The new 5,000-square-foot office is larg- er and busier than the one he had before, but strangely enough, Walters finds it more restful and focused, and that's a tribute to smart office design. Because his work area is more compact, Walters walks around less, giving him more time for patient care. And thanks to a floor plan that creates different zones for clinical and back-office activities, fewer patients wander into his private office, or that of the office manager.

"I like the way the office flows," says Walters, who paid for his new digs out of his own pocket. "It's a fun place to work."

Medical office design encompasses everything from the science of healing colors to the privacy considerations of exam rooms (never install the table so that the patient's feet-and blush-producing body parts-face the door). These days, design must also consider this issue: How do you spread out without wearing out?

The space race stems from a variety of sources. Outside of Medicare-heavy practices, primary care doctors generally need at least three exam rooms apiece to maintain a steady stream of visits, says practice management consultant Keith Borglum in Santa Rosa, CA. Yet many doctors are stuck with only two rooms, says Borglum. "They're cooling their heels while they wait for a room to turn over." Want to add midlevels? They'll require two or three exam rooms apiece as well, depending on their patient load. And ancillary services-important income-boosters in primary care-often require their own dedicated areas.

Then there's the fact that clerical staffs have grown larger in direct response to insurance-company rigmarole. The head count per full-time doctor in internal medicine practices, for example, rose from a median 3.7 to 4.2 between 1995 and 2004, according to the Medical Group Management Association. "More bodies translate into more space," says medical architect Richard Haines, whose firm in suburban Atlanta designed Walters' office.

Architects like Haines figure out ways to make this increased square footage as efficient as possible. Reducing footsteps is a prime strategy. "I came across one cardiology practice where the distance between the waiting room and the farthest exam room was 285 feet," says Haines. "That was a lot of wasted motion for medical assistants who were escorting patients," says Haines. "It was a workout for older patients, too."

There's more than one way to shorten those hikes. Architect John Marasco in Denver designed an office for a five-doctor group in Illinois that puts the waiting room smack dab in the clinical area next to exam rooms. Patients go there immediately after check-in, lightening the escort duty of medical assistants.

We've assembled office floor plans and photos to illustrate how smart design is helping Henry Walters and other physicians. Whether you're building a brand new facility or moving into rental space, you'll want to understand how the bestlaid plans can inject more prosperity-and even fun-into your practice.


Floor plan: Henry Walters' office plan

The office of internist Henry Walters is designed for efficient movement. …

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