Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creating Better Doctors' Offices for Better Healthcare Experiences #NHBPM

I spend way too much time going to see doctors.  Given that my usual trips leave me with plenty of time of soak up the scenery--or lack thereof--while waiting patiently for my 15 minutes, I've got some opinions on what works and what doesn't work when it comes to medical settings.  So today I am going to offer suggestions on how you can redesign your medical office space.

The Waiting Room

This is a place where first impressions are made.  A clean, neat and tidy waiting room makes me feel more confident about the care I am about to receive.  A dingy, messy and unattractive space make me wonder what in the world I am doing there.

So for starters, I'd suggest a nice coat of paint in a soothing color, like blue, green, gold, yellow, red brown, red violet or soft gray. Keep the shade on the lighter and brighter side so the spaces in the office feel more open and comfortable.  Be sure to extend those colors from the waiting room into the other rooms too, because nothing screams cold, impersonal and clinical like a plain, white examination room.

Once the walls are painted, color-coordinate the furniture, fixtures and decor so everything has a pulled-together look.  And for goodness sake, don't just buy chairs and couches on looks alone; have someone from your office test drive them to make sure they are comfortable!  Just like Goldilocks, a patient will be happier waiting 30 minutes for you in a chair that is "just right" versus a chair that is too hard or too soft.

Be sure you have enough seating surfaces to accommodate your patient flow, but not so many that patient are cramped together and invading each other's personal space.

Having something nice to look at on the wall also helps.   I think artwork is preferable over TVs, which are usually too loud, intrusive or tuned to a program no one in the waiting room wants to be watching.  Soft lighting and ambient music are nice touches too.  If you decide to add plants or a fish tank, just be sure someone is going to take care of them, because nothing is more unappealing than flora and fauna struggling to survive.

My last suggestion has to do with the reception desk.  Nothing can be more tiring and frustrating that having to wait in a long line to get checked in, so consider a sign in sheet for small offices or a take-a-number call system for larger offices and clinics.  That way patients can comfortably relax in the "just right" chairs you've picked out for them.  I prefer a reception desk where I can sit down across from the receptionist and be able to complete paperwork on a table-like surface.  If that is not possible, then add a table and chairs to the waiting area so this task is easier for patients.

If the receptionist also answers the phone, schedules procedures or discusses patient care matters with you, consider added a screen to the reception desk.  A screen helps maintain patient privacy for those conversations.  It also creates a more soothing atmosphere where patients aren't bombarded by the noise and activity going on in your front office.

The Exam Room

My biggest pet peeve about exam rooms is the temperature.  They are always either too hot or too cold.  Either way, the wrong temperature can be a huge distraction during my visit with you.

Next is the seating arrangements.  Personally, I don't want the exam table to be my only seating option in the room.  So please, have at least one, and preferably two, comfortable chairs in the exam room specifically for the patient and their caregiver.

As for that exam table, I find a table that is low to the ground much easier to climb onto.  Then if you need me to be higher, raise me up when you come into the room.  Barring that, a nice sturdy step stool next to the table is really the best way to help me get up there.  Those steps built-in as drawers in the table don't seem wide or deep enough to me.  Once I get on the table, I want to be able to rest my feet flat on some kind of surface because having my legs dangling off the table is very uncomfortable and hurts my low back.

Oh, and I like that curtain by the door that you can draw closed when you ask me to change into an exam gown.  So please do use it.

If the exam room is terribly small, why not reserve it for exams only and invite me into your office to chat with you?  Discussing my health concerns with you in a setting designed for conversations makes me feel like you are really interesting and engaged in my health care.

Instead, I often have to talk with you while awkwardly perched half-naked on that uncomfortable exam table or straining my neck to look sideways at you while you're gazing into a computer screen reading lab results or writing your progress note.

Having an office space that is clean and attractive, meets my needs as a patient and is conducive to quality doctor-patient interactions helps me feel better about my healthcare experience.  Plus when I am more relaxed and comfortable, I am more open and receptive to your medical advice and instructions.

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