Setting up your Office and Making it Patient-Friendly

Emma Caplan
April 22, 2020

Why are some medical practices more patient-friendly than others and, as a physician, why should you care? Simply put, the quality, competition, and survival of your practice depends on how you treat, and the impression you give, your patients. Today’s patients are informed and savvy. Many research online and read reviews prior to selecting a physician. Once they select a practice, they are likely to leave if unhappy. So, it’s critical that your practice is as patient-friendly as possible. Here, we explore some of the things you can focus on to achieve just that.

 

Exam Room

In today’s medical practices, the exam room has become the centre of interaction with patients and has grown in size because of the nature of the work being done. It’s important to assess your exam rooms: Do you have all the necessary supplies available? Does the counter look neat and clean? Purchase organizing cabinets and containers and get as much off the counter as possible.

Consider the fact that exam rooms can also function as a room for other steps in your patients’ visit. Set up a computer in each exam room, so medical assistants can chart patient vitals and complete paperwork electronically before you arrive. Then, once you’re finished, the medical assistant can return and schedule follow-up appointments or testing. Eliminating the need to return to the front desk for check-out makes your patients’ experience much more private and seamless.

 


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Waiting Room

Your waiting room is your patients’ initial exposure to your office and offers you an opportunity to leave a good impression. Although your patients aren’t choosing you as a physician based on your waiting room, it is memorable and will affect their overall feeling about each visit. We all know that waiting is part of a patient’s experience, but since they can be anxious before seeing their physician, making them feel welcome and comfortable benefits everyone. Many patients feel their time in the waiting room is the worst part of going to the doctor, but, the good news is you can change that!

Here are some tips to consider for an attractive waiting room that promotes health, wellness, and productivity – all part of the entire experience that encourages loyal patients.

Comfortable and Thoughtful Furniture Layout

Comfortable seating can do a lot for your patients, like offering a nice, restful place to sit in case of long wait times. It’s wise to invest in ergonomically-designed seats suitable for various needs.

You can lay seating out in different ways: try a cluster of waiting room chairs around a coffee table for families, a quiet space for professionals, and a play area to entertain kids without disrupting others. Moveable seating gives an even greater sense of control.

The style, material, and color of the furniture should reflect your practice’s branding. For instance, practices known for state-of-the-art services and equipment might opt for modern furniture with clean lines, while neutral colors and natural materials might be appropriate for holistic medical practices.

Warm, Inviting, and Professional Ambience

Your patients’ overall experience will be affected by many elements as they move through your office during their appointment. The first element will be the waiting room. So, it’s important to make it warm and inviting.

This can begin with how clean the area (and all others) look. If you lease your space and are not getting enough from the provided cleaning service, consider hiring a crew to come in once or twice a month for deep cleaning. Also, consider how everything contributes (or doesn’t) to a professional, favourable impression. For instance, do not tape paper signs to the front window or in exam rooms. Not only can this look sloppy, but it becomes like wallpaper and patients stop reading if there are too many. Instead, you can emphasize important messages in a picture frame.

A well-planned layout, smart colour choices and fresh paint, and ambient temperature can help calm anxious patients. As well, plants improve air quality, offer contrast, and give a cozy feeling. Remove any furniture that is torn or noticeably scratched. Replace any snagged or soiled carpet. A pleasant waiting room not only reduces anxiety but it actually can make the wait feel shorter than it was.

Entertainment and Active Waiting

When we’re entertained, it seems time passes by much faster. To entertain your patients while they wait, you can procure things such as:

  • Space-optimized entertainment systems like surround systems,

  • TVs of a size proportional to your space and tuned to relevant channels,

  • Reading material for adults such as current magazines and newspapers, and

  • Activities for kids such as a play area and games.

Wait times can feel shorter and less stressful for patients when they’re engaged in an activity, or when they’re offered the environment to be productive. Examples of this include:

  • Free WiFi access

  • Individual desks or communal work tables and charging stations

  • iPads or tablets (tethered down for security) preloaded with games, digital magazines, newspapers, and social apps

  • Extra, value-added services, for instance:

    • Show educational videos about common ailments and treatments.

    • Sell retail products related to patients’ visits. Specialties such as optometrists and dermatologists do this but others can get creative, too!

Snacks and Small Luxuries

Think outside the box and offer refreshments beyond those in standard vending machines, such as water, healthy snacks, fruits, juices, coffee, or pastries. A coffee bar or well-stocked mini-fridge will impress patients. You can take this even further and offer luxuries like a massage chair or video games to help patients relax and pass the time.

Status Updates

People tend to get agitated and restless when they are not informed as they wait. Although unavoidable delays may occur, prompt updates can help put patients at ease. Plus, the vast majority of patients will get frustrated at some point by long wait timesMost patients will be less irritated if they know how long the wait is or receive an apology. So, to maintain your patient base, consider investing in front office technologies that keep the line moving and patients updated. For instance, you can show estimated wait times on a screen in the waiting room or send automated text message alerts to inform patients when their physician is running late. Some practices utilize pagers so patients can walk around outside or use the washroom without worrying that they’ll miss their turn.

Attendant and Self-Serve Kiosks

Self-serve kiosks speed up patient registration and consent form processes, and also help in other areas like language translation and payment collection. This can help reduce wait times, offer convenience, and increase privacy – all of which improve the patient experience.

A waiting room attendant or liaison can welcome patients and help them with things such as filling out forms, answering general questions, and scheduling follow-up appointments. A confident, professional, friendly, and knowledgeable staff member in this role can ensure patients receive the attention they desire from the moment they arrive to the time they leave.

Community Engagement

Engaging with your local community shows that you are in touch with and care about the people you serve. You can put up a bulletin board featuring information on local events and activities such as arts and recreation, sports, festivals, and markets. Include activities that your practice has participated in or is planning to attend. Likewise, showcasing (and even selling) work by local artists, such as paintings on the walls, can make your office endearing to patients.

 

Flex or Extra Space

A new medical office design for a small practice often includes a couple of exam rooms, a consultation room, and a small processing station. Since there’s no need for chart rooms like in the past, physicians have more flexibility with their space for things like multiple waiting rooms, consultation rooms, and seperate check-in and check-out areas. And if you’re really looking to maximize space, consider sharing a single room for patient consultations. This will free up additional space for more exam rooms or meeting rooms for medical staff.

Another way to gain more flexibility in space allocation is, depending on the size of your practice and its technology infrastructure, the fact you may not need a server room or centralized area with desktop computers, printers, and other equipment. If, instead, you opt for a cloud-based solution, you may only need a local area network and devices with WiFi capability, like laptops or tablets.

If patients are seated close to the reception desk, it could compromise their privacy. Many practices are opting for a second area that offers more privacy for check-in, payment, and completion of paperwork. Once patients have registered, they can move to another waiting room, big enough to accommodate family members or escorts.

Careful and deliberate use of spaces can improve staff efficiency and the flow of patients. Patients may feel they’re moving through the practice in a timely manner, as those sitting in a crowded waiting room often wonder how long they will wait to be seen.

 

Technology

The types of technology and its setup can increase patient comfort and satisfaction, and expedite patient registration and insurance verification, to name just a few benefits. For example, in-office WiFi allows patients to use personal mobile devices like smartphones and tablets while waiting for their physician. Patient registration tablets allow patients to register, pay, and complete paperwork, all from the comfort of their own seat and without waiting in line.

Patient portals have replaced the traditional practice of dedicated staff members who answer, triage, and return patient phone calls. Now, patients can leave secure messages for their physicians and/or nursing staff using a portal, and receive email notification that their inquiry has been answered. It puts patients first by saving them time and allowing them to go about their day, rather than being placed on hold for potentially lengthy waits.

However, not every practice has a patient portal – perhaps you’re using an older system and not ready to make the expenditure on a new system, or maybe you serve an older demographic that doesn’t have email access. This will still mean a large front office with room for phone operators. If you’re in this position, it helps patients to have an automated attendant to route routine calls and put the rest in queue for a live operator. You could also invest in a system to monitor phone calls for how many are dropped and which days and times are the busiest. This will help you figure out how to plan out staff resourcing for this task.

 

Get in Sync with your Staff

The impression your staff leaves on patients can be long-lasting. Listen to how they treat patients, both as they enter and leave the office. Are they polite? Are they listening to what patients are really saying? When you call the office line, do your receptionists answer appropriately and give their name? Even if your office is the only specialty in the area, don’t take that for granted – ensure your patients feel respected when they deal with your office. Also, consider how professional your staff look. Nurses should wear scrubs and office staff could be in business casual or neat and tidy looking street clothes (for instance, no ripped jeans or t-shirts).

A key thing to maintaining a consistent, positive environment your patients want to return to is your staff being happy, engaged, heard, and informed. The following actions can help you achieve just that:

  • Conduct a salary survey and make adjustments if your practice pays too low for the market.

  • Focus on teamwork. Research shows that working towards a goal as a team has astounding results. People tend to work harder if they have someone working with them than if they were alone. The innate desire to work as a team can be used by practices to improve care, outcomes, and, ultimately, patient satisfaction.

  • Get feedback from staff about the patient-friendly atmosphere and how they model and promote it, conduct team-building sessions, request and address feedback, and offer training on patient communications and the value of patient points of view (perhaps via meetings, memos, and personal visits by practice leaders who promote this).

These are just some of the key areas on which you can focus and enhance your practice to make it the most patient-friendly it can be. Remember, a patient-friendly office will help you build and maintain a broad patient base and, over the long run, help you succeed.

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