Managing Your Practice

Pay an annual visit to your office


 

Every year, during the relatively slow winter-months period, I like to take a tour of my office from the paradigm of a patient visiting our facility for the first time. When was the last time you did a comprehensive inspection, looking for problems that your patients might see?

We tend not to notice gradual deterioration in the workplace we inhabit every day: Carpets fade and dull with constant traffic and cleaning; wallpaper and paint accumulate dirt, stains, and damage; furniture gets dirty and dented, fabric rips, hardware goes missing; laminate peels off the edges of desks and cabinets.

When did you last take a good look at your waiting room? How clean is it? Patients expect cleanliness in doctor’s offices, and they expect the reception area to be neat. How are the carpeting and upholstery holding up? Sit in your chairs; how do they feel? Patients don’t appreciate a sore back or bottom from any chairs, especially in a medical office. Consider investing in new furniture that will be attractive and comfortable for your patients.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

Look at the decor itself; is it dated or just plain “old-looking?” Any interior designer will tell you they can determine quite accurately when a space was last decorated, simply by the color and style of the materials used. If your office is stuck in the ‘90s, it’s probably time for a change. Even if you don’t find anything obvious, it’s wise to check periodically for subtle evidence of age: Find some patches of protected carpeting and flooring under stationary furniture and compare them to exposed floors.

If your color scheme is hopelessly out of date and style, or if you are just tired of it, change it. Wallpaper and carpeting should be long-wearing industrial quality; paint should be high-quality “eggshell” finish to facilitate cleaning, and everything should be professionally applied. (This is neither the time nor place for do-it-yourself experiments.) Consider updating your overhead lighting. The harsh glow of fluorescent lights amid an uninspired decor creates a sterile, uninviting atmosphere.

During renovation, get your building’s maintenance crew to fix any nagging plumbing, electrical, or heating/air conditioning problems while pipes, ducts, and wires are more readily accessible. This is also a good time to clear out old textbooks, journals, and files that you will never open again, in this digital age.

If your wall decorations are dated and unattractive, now would be a good time to replace at least some of them. This need not be an expensive proposition; a few years ago, I redecorated my exam room walls with framed photos from my travel adventures – to very positive responses from patients and staff alike. If you’re not an artist or photographer, invite a family member, or local artists or talented patients, to display some of their creations on your walls. If you get too many contributions, you can rotate them on a periodic basis.

Plants are great aesthetic accents, yet many offices have little or no plant life. Plants naturally aerate an office suite and help make it feel less stuffy. Also, multiple studies have found that plants promote productivity among office staff and create a sense of calm for apprehensive patients. Improvements like this can make a big difference. They show an attention to detail and a willingness to make your practice as inviting as possible for patients and employees alike.

Spruce-up time is also an excellent opportunity to inventory your medical equipment. We’ve all seen “vintage” offices full of gadgets that were state-of-the-art decades ago. Nostalgia is nice; but would you want to be treated by a physician whose office could be a Smithsonian exhibit titled, “Doctor’s Office Circa 1975?” Neither would your patients, for the most part; many – particularly younger ones – assume that doctors who don’t keep up with technological innovations don’t keep up with anything else, either.

If you’re planning a vacation this year (and I hope you are), that would be the perfect time for a re-do. Your patients will be spared the dust and turmoil, tradespeople won’t have to work around your office hours, and you won’t have to cancel any hours that weren’t already canceled. Best of all, you’ll come back to a clean, fresh environment.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at dermnews@mdedge.com.

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