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Expand your practice-without moving


How to remodel your office to create an efficient, cheerful space.

Expanding your practice doesn’t have to mean moving across town. It could mean remodeling your old space-and that might not be as difficult or as expensive as you expect.

Electronic health records (EHRs) have created headaches for many providers, but an often-unmentioned benefit is the space they’ve saved. All those paper charts that used to take up entire rooms are now stored on computers, leaving you a lot of free space.

If you're looking to expand your practice, but don't need a whole new office, you may find the space you need in your old records room. You might be able to turn that into an exam room or two-maybe enough to accommodate an additional part-time provider. Or, If you need more room to offer additional services or store equipment, your old records room might be a good place to find it.

Another way to make better use of space is to convert a warren of small rarely used provider offices to an open plan area where they can work together as a team. Knock out some walls and add pods, standing desks, or team stations. This will not only provide a more effective use of the space, it will go a long way to helping your team work together more efficiently, says Nick Fabrizio, PhD, faculty member at Cornell University’s Sloan Graduate Program in Health Administration and principle consultant with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

Remodeling doesn't have to mean spending lots of money. If you’re on a tight budget, you can save money by doing more of the planning yourself. When Robert Callery, a nurse practitioner, opened a new family practice in Brownsville, Tenn., he bought an empty building that had previously been a chain pharmacy. The location was great-right on Main Street-but the building needed a lot of work to serve as a medical clinic. Callery and his wife Brandi, an RN, did all the design work themselves. Using an online design program, they were able to do a 3D walk through to make sure the space worked the way they needed it to.

“We laid out every door, every exam table, every chair and desk, every hallway,” Callery says. “We learned all the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and other specifications, then handed it off to an architect for review, then to the contractor.” By designing the layout themselves, they made sure that the space suited their needs. They were also able to pay attention to small details, such as ensuring there was room for two people to stand at a work station or enough space for patients to comfortably walk from the waiting room to exam rooms.

Sometimes, even small changes within an exisiting floor plan can make a big difference. The American Medical Association website features a module “Optimizing Space in Medical Practices” with many good ideas. For example, your exam rooms can be tweaked to function more efficiently by simply rearranging the furniture. Try placing the exam table diagonally across the room to free up more space for chairs along the wall. Using rolling laptop stands or even tablet computers can save desk space and make it easier for providers to maintain eye contact with patients while entering data.

You may be able to easily and inexpensively improve your waiting areas as well. A fresh coat of paint and upgraded furniture is an inexpensive way to improve your look. Soothing artwork and plants are always a good bet. Also consider whether or not to put a television in your waiting area. It can seem like a nice service, even a distraction for patients, but it may actually make them uncomfortable. Not being able to choose the programming they’d prefer and possibly being exposed to upsetting or annoying broadcasts can ramp up anxiety. If you do have a television, consider tuning it to something soothing, such as nature programs.

Remember that your waiting room is the first impression patients get of your practice. You want the level of care provided in the exam room to be relected in the office’s interior design.

With a little thought and not a lot of money, you can create a more spacious, more pleasant, and more efficient space that benefits providers and patients.

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