Time for an office face-lift: 10 helpful suggestion

March 1, 2005

If your patients see an office with poor lighting, drab colors, and ncomfortable chairs, they may translate those messages as shoddy medical care.

So many of us, myself included, have offices containing the same furnishings, wall coverings, and even carpeting that we installed the day we started our practices. During these times when incomes are going down and overhead costs are rising, giving your office a face-lift does not need to be a costly project.

For this article, I interviewed John Pangrazio, FAIA, partner at NBBJ in Seattle, who is considered America's premier health care architect. Pangrazio is also president of the American Institute of Architects for the Academy of Architecture for Health. He explains the importance of appearance and design, and offers 10 suggestions commonly provided by health care architects.

Can you imagine what patients will think of you and your practice, if they walk into the waiting room to find chairs that have torn upholstery, carpet that is worn or stained, peeling wallpaper, dying plants, and reading material in the magazine racks containing 5-year-old publications? The answer is the same negative impression airline passengers receive when they find old food and stains on their pull-down trays and then wonder about the maintenance of jet engines.

If your patients see an office with poor lighting, drab colors, and uncomfortable chairs, they may translate those messages as shoddy medical care. However, if the office contains plentiful natural lighting or a soothing fountain that promotes relaxation and stress reduction, then your patients might be more comfortable, less anxious, and more confident in the doctors and the practice.

Patients with excessive time in the reception area or the exam room are very likely to take in more details and will take note of shoddy workmanship of cabinetry, a broken leg on an exam table, or a chair repaired with duct tape, reminds Pangrazio. Taking the concept further, he says stress levels will rapidly increase when the office space is not designed to soothe, comfort, and heal. (Perhaps this is one more reason to see patients in a timely fashion and reduce waiting times!)

Professional help needed? Do you need an architect to give your office a face-lift? Health care architects are involved not only in the aesthetics of your practice but can actually help create an efficient practice. They understand medical processes of care, are able to identify bottlenecks, and can create space that improves patient throughput and satisfaction, which ultimately will help improve the entire health care experience of your patients. For example, architects can design a space so patients don't congregate at the checkout desk.

Health care architects also understand how new technologies will impact your office practice. Pangrazio points out that electronic medical records are changing the process of care. Now space that was once relegated to storing medical records can be dedicated to other purposes such as increasing the size of the reception area, increasing the number of exam rooms, and improving the employee lounge.

An architect can give your practice a face-lift by showing you how to use natural light, how to provide ergonomic seating, and how to select pleasing artwork. These suggestions play a role in reducing stress and helping patients feel at ease.