Competition for patients has become more heated across the medical office sector, but as Justin Brasell, VP of healthcare advisory services at Transwestern, sees it, one factor that could separate the successful practices from the pack is often overlooked: office design.

Brasell lays out some principles that could mean the difference in this EXCLUSIVE editorial. The views expressed are the author’s own.



Justin Brasell

As patient convenience and satisfaction become a central focus in American healthcare, practices are seeking ways to provide a superior patient experience that retains customers and differentiates providers from competitors. The goal is to create a comfortable, relaxed environment that promotes healing and improved outcomes for patients, while supporting and energizing caregivers to perform at their best.

Unfortunately, traditional medical office layouts can sour the doctor-patient relationship. The decades-old process of completing seemingly endless paperwork, and then passing the better part of an hour in a crowded waiting room, may spur some patients to seek a new provider.

Here are several design elements that can establish a more welcoming, patient-friendly environment. Many offer the added benefits of strengthening employee retention, enhancing efficiency and eliminating excess square footage, lowering overall rent and utility costs.

Remove the front desk. A key to ending waiting-room drudgery is a speedy check-in. Given the option, many patients would prefer to fill out insurance and patient forms online before their visit. When they arrive, a digital sign-in system, such as a tablet computer mounted just inside the entry, can enable patients to check in, alert the staff of their arrival, and even verify insurance coverage with providers.

Shrink the waiting room. For many practices, a large waiting room will become unnecessary. A few seats should be sufficient to accommodate each new arrival during their brief check-in, after which they can be ushered to an examination room to await their doctor. And shaving a few hundred square feet of common area space from the lease can yield a profound savings in occupancy costs.

Embrace the light. Taking a cue from modern office design, large windows and furniture angled to capture optimal views can reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being. The effect is as beneficial to caregivers as it is to patients. Additional access to natural light can include walking trails around the building’s exterior, even in an urban setting. A cool color palate and soothing, interesting artwork also help to create a welcoming and peaceful environment that can ease a patient’s distress.

Rethink examination rooms. We advise clients to revisit the conventional exam room layout. Alternative designs can better accommodate a loved one accompanying the patient and allow more relaxed physician-to-patient interaction. The standing physician looming over an examination table can intimidate some patients, so many doctors select furniture and designs that foster eye-to-eye conversations. Tablet computers remove the barrier that a laptop computer or monitor can impose between physician and patient.

Arrange space strategically. Today’s healthcare realities require higher patient throughput, but doctors can maximize their time with patients by locating their personal offices nearer exam rooms. A pod arrangement of three to four exam rooms, surrounding a work area shared by the practitioner and their staff, fosters collaboration, reduces physician-to-exam-room time, and enables a nurse to monitor several exam rooms simultaneously.

Justin Brasell is a Vice President of healthcare advisory services at Transwestern. He can be reached at Justin.Brasell@transwestern.com.