Medical practices are rapidly changing: EHRs have largely replaced paper charts, mobile devices are able to chart patient notes, and video chat enables remote access to patients. But how does that affect a practice's physical design and space requirements?
Bruce Puffer, founder and president of Plymouth, Mass.-based design firm Pro Medical Interiors, says he's seen monumental change in design requirements for medical practices over the past 38 years. "As time has gone on, the exam room really [has become] the center of the interaction with the patient. And [it] has grown in size because of the nature of the work being done in there," he says.
Puffer can remember when patient charts "would gobble up three filing cabinets" per physician, and a new medical office design for a solo physician would include a couple of exam rooms, a consultation room, and a small lab or processing station. Now, he says, the theme is consolidation and partnership with other physicians, a hospital, or integrated health system so that providers can share space and disperse overhead costs for items such as new technology or additional staff to manage practice administration.
If your budget is limited, don't despair. The beauty of undertaking a practice redesign or new build is that you can customize the scope and timeline of the project to suit your practice's individual needs. Here are some of the factors you'll need to consider before building your new space.
CHANGING NEEDS FOR SPACE
Practice design and configuration has undergone significant changes over the years. There are several factors at play: The incorporation of new technology, the need to improve patient flow and staff efficiency, and reassigning new space that has opened up. Experts say these are some of the ways that practices are changing up their physical space:
The physician office. Many physicians no longer have a dedicated office with the accoutrements of their profession like medical diplomas on the wall, human skeletons, and pharmaceutical swag. Often several physicians will share a single space for patient consultations, freeing up practice real estate for more exam rooms or what Puffer calls a "touch-down space," where providers can brief clinical staff on next steps for their patients.
Private patient registration area. Due to HIPAA privacy rules, seating patients close to the check-in desk could compromise patient privacy. Many practices are opting for a second patient registration area that offers more privacy for check-in, payment, and completion of the medical and social histories.