As an office design consultant, I help other doctors resolve their design dilemmas, which means I’m asked many questions about various office design issues. If you are ready to design a new office, or thinking about a project in the future, the answers to these frequently asked questions are a great way to help get you started.
In the first part of this two-part series, we address floor plan layouts, office decor, storage space, and ways to design your office for maximum efficiency. In the next installment, we’ll talk about construction costs, computer systems, space considerations, and how to eliminate clutter.
Which floor plan layout is the best?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions, and I always answer it the same way. There is no such thing as “the best floor plan.” Asking this type of question is the equivalent of wanting to know “which automobile is the best on the road.” There are simply too many variables involved (i.e., personal taste, functionality, price, budget, desired use, etc.) for one floor plan or design scheme to be deemed as the best. What is best for you is rarely what will be best for another doctor.
The goal is always to find a floor plan that is right for your particular situation. When making that decision, you should consider several factors, each of which plays a unique role in how your office should ultimately be designed. For example, you should evaluate factors such as adjustment style, practice goals, the number of current and future staff members, desired patient capacity, the amount of usable floor space, available budget, equipment to be incorporated, and other variables. In the end, this process should yield a floor plan layout that serves the practice today and in the future.
What colors should I use for my office decor?
Choosing colors can be a bit tricky, because there are essentially two ways to approach the task. The first is to choose a color scheme that is pleasing to you and your staff, thus assuring a comfortable and pleasing working environment. However, this method ignores the impact a particular decor may have on patients.
The second method involves choosing a color scheme specifically designed with patients in mind. That means choosing colors and patterns that have been shown to illicit favorable psychological and physiological responses. For example, researchers believe warm colors such as yellow may produce a sense of cheerfulness, while overuse of red may generate tension. By contrast, a calm, restful environment can be created by using cooler colors such as greens, blues and grays. Incorporating natural wood has also been shown to reduce stress.
I recommend that you choose with your patients in mind. I typically advise doctors to stick with colors, patterns, and finishing materials that are known to create a sense of warmth, calmness, and trust. Without going into specifics, try choosing light shades of neutral colors similar to those used in a residential environment. The idea is to mimic the feel of a warm and friendly home. In fact, creating a “feeling of home” is an emerging commercial design trend and it’s being used quite extensively in the health-care industry.
How much storage space do I need?
The obvious answer would be that you can never have too much storage space, because no matter how much you have, it quickly fills up. However, I recommend keeping storage space to a minimum for two reasons. One, it’s non-income producing space, which on a per-square-foot basis costs just as much as income-producing space. And two, most storage rooms (including my own) tend to become an unorganized gathering of mostly unneeded items.
To maximize the storage space you have, try cleaning out any old items that are no longer being used. If you haven’t used an item during the past year, it doesn’t belong in your storage space. The goal should be to not store anything in the office that isn’t being used on a somewhat regular basis.
If you’ve already reduced the existing storage space to the bare essentials and still need additional space, try looking up – literally. Most commercial buildings are designed with high ceilings, and in most storage rooms that higher vertical space goes unused. By simply incorporating shelving or cabinets in the dark room, break room, closet, or designated storage room, you can greatly increase the overall storage capacity in your office.
How can I reduce the amount of walking I do each day?
This is a big concern with many doctors because rendering chiropractic care is a physically demanding task that requires you to be on your feet virtually all day. I have five recommendations for reducing the amount of steps taken and improving the comfort level of those steps:
- Try designing your office so the areas where you spend the most time are close together. For example, the doctor’s private office, the front desk, and treatment rooms (or area), should be close together. Other areas, such as the exam room, restrooms, X-ray room, dark room, break room, and storage room can be grouped together in another part of the office.
- If the design calls for dedicated treatment rooms, try installing a pocket door on each of the common dividing walls. In effect, this creates a private pathway that allows you to efficiently flow from room to room. Also consider going with just two treatment rooms instead of three or more. Remember, only one patient can be treated at a time, and toggling back and forth between two tables is more efficient than doing so with three or more. For example, as a patient receives treatment on table A, an assistant can direct another patient to table B. By the time the patient on table A is treated and ready to go, the patient on table B will be ready to receive treatment.
- Sit down and take a “micro-break” whenever possible. Even if it’s only for a few seconds, these micro-breaks can make a significant difference at the end of a long day by allowing you to relax your feet and legs. No time to spare? Consider sitting down between each treatment while doing progress notes. Or try to sit down immediately before or after each treatment while conversing with a patient or staff member.
- Use hand signals, lights, bells or color-coded flags to communicate traffic flow and treatment procedures with staff members. These methods of communication help eliminate a great of deal of unnecessary walking, and they allow you and your staff to maintain an efficient rhythm and flow throughout the day.
- The final recommendation is obvious, but no less important or effective. Wear comfortable shoes. Solid black tennis shoes with no stripes or insignia’s are comfortable yet professional.
My office always seems to get log-jammed during busy times. What changes can I implement to prevent this problem?
A so-called “log-jam” situation usually arises when more patients are scheduled than the office, doctor, and staff are capable of processing. Obviously, this situation is bad for business. Patients can become frustrated to the point where they start considering going to another doctor.
However, the obvious solution to this problem, scheduling fewer patients, is not what I recommend. My advice is to implement changes designed to increase the total patent capacity of the practice. Doing so will increase the total number of patients you can see, and it also fosters a greater sense of control and organization among the patients and staff, which are important factors to practice success.
Patient capacity is defined as the maximum number of patients the office, doctor, and staff are capable of adequately seeing in a given amount of time – usually one hour. Maximizing patient capacity is done partly by streamlining office procedures; partly by properly training the staff, and partly by implementing the proper floor plan layout.
Specifically, there are several ways to increase overall patient capacity. For example, consider adding a hot-seat area near treatment tables. This can be several chairs placed together near an open environment treatment area or a single chair placed outside each treatment room. In both cases, doing so allows patients to be ready for treatment at the point of service, which reduces the amount of transition time between each patient.
Patient capacity can be significantly improved if the office is designed to allow for non-verbal communication between the doctor and staff. For example, in an open treatment environment the doctor and staff can communicate via hand signals and code words or numbers. Traffic flow, treatment procedures, X-ray orders, and anything else can be calmly and efficiently conveyed between you and your staff, similar to the way in which military, police and fire personnel communicate with each other using a series of codes.
Try not to schedule any difficult cases or physical examinations during busy times of the day, since they tend to break up the rhythm of treating many patients in a short period of time. Patients requiring additional time should be scheduled during off-peak times.
Also, make sure the office is adequately staffed during busy times. If needed, hire a part-time assistant to help with directing patient traffic and taking care of unexpected situations.
I recommend not allowing walk-in visits during busy times. Simply inform patients on the first visit that walk-in visits are allowed, but only during certain times. If a patient does walk in during a busy period, politely convey to him or her that patients with scheduled appointments have first priority.
Finally, create a written game plan outlining office procedure during peak times. The goal of the plan should be to formally anticipate everything that might happen, so everyone will know what needs to be done. Make a list of responsibilities for each staff member.