Functional & Efficient Medical Office/Clinic

Can you create an office or clinic that is functional and efficient?

This is the most often asked question on starting a project and is no doubt the ultimate goal of the project planning process.  The questions that need to be answered in on are:  What is a functional, efficient space?”, “How do we achieve this?”, and “How costly will it be?”

What is a functional, efficient space?

Achieving “Efficiency & Functionality” in a medical office is a fundamental objective of any planning process.  To begin with the dictionary definitions of the critical terms are:

Functional:  “designed for or suited to a particular operation or use”
Efficiency:  “the ratio of work done or energy expended, by an organism or machine, to the energy supplied in the form of food or fuel”
Efficient:  “productive of results with the minimum of wasted effort”

We can all understand the meaning of the above definitions but how are they applied to medical office/clinic design? In most project cases the physician supplies information regarding various tasks that they and their staff perform daily.  They also provide the requirements for the areas and rooms needed, including equipment details that are to be planned for. Given this information it probably sounds like an easy enough task to prepare a preliminary space design for a proposed physical space.

How do we achieve this?

To actually begin the task of achieving a FUNCTIONAL DESIGN the initial information collected from the office or clinic staff must be interpreted.  This done, a number of subsequent considerations must confirmed:

Objectives:  Are the goals clear about what is to be achieved with the planning of a new medical office?

Office Management:  A number of issues need to be addressed and agreed upon.  When moving from an existing office/clinic to a new facility will the move to the new facility also relocate old habits?  Have all personnel reviewed how they work, how things are done, and are they being done correctly?  How are task changes brought about that will result in an office becoming more FUNCTIONAL?  Does the physician discuss with the staff ways for improving efficiency or does the physician unilaterally make all the decisions?

Job Description:  It must be clear who is responsible for the tasks in the office.

Without a clear job description it is difficult to determine not only exact tasks but who is responsible for carrying them out.  How can tasks and responsibilities be changed if  they are not properly identified in the first place?

Equipment :  Will a new electronic medical office (EMR)  office    environment be planned for or will  there be a gradual transition over time?  Are there any specialty equipment  requirements for the present of future?

Each of the above considerations help to define a clearer understanding of the TASKS to be performed within an office that can be applied to design requirements for an EFFICIENT OFFICE.

Once the tasks have been established and verified the planning process involves a further review of technical elements necessary for achieving the desired planning results:

Task Planning:  Established tasks are reviewed and confirmed with a view to identifying space allocations (square meters/square feet).
Room or Area Identification:  The task analysis having been confirmed space allocations (in square meters/square feet) can be made.  This is achieved with the application of mathematical calculations, consideration of human body proportions and psychological as well as physical norms.

Medical Office Space Design:  The preliminary space design is prepared taking into account all the established FUNCTIONS and translated into a creative planning exercise that incorporates office traffic patterns for staff and patients, with the objective of achieving the optimum EFFICIENCY within the new office.

How costly will it be?

The above steps describe the ideal planning process required for achieving results that can save hundreds and thousands of dollars over the period of a lease.  Why?  Because a professional was hired from whom you can EXPECT expert service, thereby ensuring that all essential planning steps have been followed that will produce savings due to the functionality and efficiency of the space.  How can the savings be measured?  On review Physicians and staff will identify increased productivity in the work place, communication will be more efficient, walking distances for staff and patient will be minimized, and proper equipment planning will result in better accessibility for all staff, whether medical or other!  Storage will be maximized appropriately, including vertical planning for custom cabinets, work surfaces, general storage, filing, etc.  This list goes on.

Where is the proof?  “The proof is in the pudding.”  Ask your potential professional planner for references from completed projects.  Speak to past clients and ask them how they feel about DESIGN FEES and whether they were well spend on professional help.  There is no question that savings can be achieved over the period of a lease or ownership amounting to much more than the cost of design fees!  The best description was offered by a past client:

“Don’t look at the cost of design as an EXPENSE look at it as an INVESTMENT in your business that will provide revenue over the years to come that would otherwise never be achieved”.

Best of luck with your office planning!
Thomas Nater  ARIDO, IDC

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