Consider Renovating Your Office Space to Revive/Expand Your Practice

October 5, 2018

You want to renovate your practice, but you’re not sure whether to add exam rooms, redo the waiting room, or eliminate the staff lounge.

Relax and consider the space you have and how you can use it to reach your goals. A redesign shouldn’t be based on an architectural function or how pretty the practice will look, it’s more about how the redesign can achieve what you want for your practice from a functional standpoint.

The task can be daunting, especially if you have differing opinions to consider or little redesign experience. Rest assured, you won’t have to make all the design choices yourself. Your physicians have the final say on all aspects of the renovation, and a design consultant likely will help you objectively assess your space, determine the necessary changes, and suggest an appropriate order in which to make them.

Remember to include your entire staff in the redesign process because they know the space that they use and need better than anyone else. Let them provide their valuable input because you don’t work in the business office or schedule appointments. Since other people do those tasks, it’s their job to look at those spaces and provide valuable feedback for what works most efficiently.

Breakdown of space

Not all office space is created equal. Group your current space into the following three categories and then prioritize:

1. Revenue-generating space. This space includes exam, procedure, and x-ray rooms. Revenue-generating space accommodates present and future needs.

2. Nonrevenue-generating. This is necessary space.

Areas such as the waiting room fall into this category. You don’t generate revenue when your patients sit in the waiting room, but your practice can’t function without that space.

3. Nonrevenue-generating. This is unnecessary space. This space includes the staff lounge, rarely used conference rooms, and physician offices that have turned into storage.

During redesign, maximize revenue-generating space you already have and turn nonrevenue-generating space into areas that make money. Rooms like the staff lounge are important and shouldn’t be eliminated unless there isn’t another way to improve care. But they should be the first considered for redesign.

The right people for the job

After you decide which spaces you are going to redesign, confer with a consultant. Practices typically come up with one or two ways to renovate. A consultant generally sees four or five ways to get it done.

Pick a consultant you trust. Only someone with experience will be able to anticipate your needs and get you where you want to be. Find out what kind of approach the consultant takes. How does s/he go about the process? What information does s/he want from you?” Without asking these questions, you won’t know whether your styles mesh.

You are the medical experts; the consultant is the space expert. If the consultant asks you how many exams rooms you want instead of what your goals are for the practice, you may have the wrong person for the job.

You also need an architect who can interpret your ideas and make them a reality. Steer clear of hospital architects. Hospital and physician-practice structures differ greatly; what works for one usually won’t work for the other.

People assume that if an architect can design a hospital, which is complicated, s/he can design a medical office. Medical offices are complex too and hospital architects don’t necessarily understand how to use the space most effectively.

Hire a contractor to complete your renovations—select a commercial contractor rather than a residential one. Commercial contractors have experience with the building officials who work on this type of project, and they understand construction technology associated with medical-practice work.

Finally, hire an experienced interior designer to coordinate colors, materials, and fabrics, and to help you avoid starkly contrasting old and new areas. Too many times we go into buildings and we know immediately what was here before and what’s new. That’s not the result you want.

Keep operations running during renovation

You probably can’t afford to close your practice to remodel. Instead, do the work in phases so you can see patients and renovate at the same time. Talk to your contractor daily or weekly to distinguish work areas from treatment areas.

I know of one such practice that had considerable success using this approach. In the many months it took to make all of the changes, the practice had its best year and never dropped any patients. But it took careful coordination among the doctors, the administrators, and the contractor.

If you don’t want to shuffle your patients or staff around the practice, consider moving to another suite or location temporarily. If this is a viable option, it’s much less disruptive in the long run.

If you must stay in the suite during renovations, provide projected benefits and a timeline for patients. Staff may be harder to appease. No matter where construction crews are working, they’re going to be in the way of staff. The administrators need to figure out how to keep staff happy during renovation by offering outings, longer lunches, or other incentives.

Despite disruptions and hassles, renovations will be worthwhile as long as decisions and changes are based on your goals for the practice. What are you trying to achieve? What are your goals? That’s what’s going to drive you.

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