Design outpatient centers to please patients, doctors

Strategies to use in ambulatory growth

The inside of your new ambulatory facility is just as important as the outside in creating patient and physician satisfaction. Here are some design tips from the professionals:

Be visible.

"You’ve spent money for a high-visibility location, now you have to be willing to put money in a high-profile sign," says Ron Halverson, senior vice president for sales and project development for Marshall Urdman and Associates, an architectural firm in Madison, WI.

This was a lesson learned by Lindie Slater, RN, administrator at Oklahoma City Surgicare, one of Columbia/HCA’s 125 ambulatory surgery centers.

"Our patients were having difficulty locating our office in the medical complex," she says. "They would be late for surgery because they couldn’t find us."

That in turn made the surgeons run late. Rather than allow the center to get a reputation for slow scheduling, Slater had a lighted sign installed. "Now, when patients show up and it’s pitch dark outside, they are able to find us and avoid a delay," she says.

Tout parking.

"Attracting patients starts on the outside of the building," says Joseph Strauss, AIA, CHC, vice president, Lammers & Gershon. "If you’re competing with other practices, then visibly convenient parking is a real must."

Design with the patient in mind.

"You should facilitate access into the building with an automatic door," Strauss says. If you’re creating a multi-speciality building, you’ll want to position each department carefully. "We always put pediatrics nearest to the entrance as possible, so sick children will not be riding the elevator and walking the corridors, which may contaminate other patients," says Halverson.

Think like a physician who wants the most convenience and safety for his or her patient, adds Gordon Docking, CHE, administrator of the medical mall at St. Joseph Health Center in Kansas City, MO.

For example, situated immediately inside the entrance on the left is the outpatient pulmonary and asthma center.

"We knew these patients often have the most difficulty in getting around," he says. "So we have oxygen hook-ups in the waiting room and another dedicated exit and circle driveway for their pick-ups."

Just past the pulmonary clinic is rehabilitation therapy. "This is quite a switch. Before, outpatient rehab was at the furthermost point of the hospital. Patients got their therapy just walking to their appointment," Docking says.

Easy access needed

In fact, under the old system, this inconvenience was costing the hospital referrals. "Many physicians wouldn’t refer their patients to us. They wanted easy access to the department because rehab tends to be recurring," he says.

(Since the new addition, referrals have increased significantly. For example, in one year, physical therapy visits rose by 38%, occupational therapy by 92%, and speech therapy by 15%.)

Retain patients’ privacy.

"Try to make the registration and intake area as private as possible," Strauss say. Also, he recommends a telephone that is away from the main waiting area. "So many times you see a phone on the wall and seating right next to it. That is not conducive to privacy," he points out.

Even arranging chairs in clusters, rather than lining the wall with them, breaks up eye contact and allows patients to feel more secluded. Halverson also minimized the number of couches in a waiting room. "Unless there’s a family, people don’t want to share a sofa with someone they don’t know — particularly if they’re sick," he explains.

Provide appropriate entertainment.

A scratchy acoustical system, blaring television, and outdated magazines only serve to annoy patients during the waiting periods, Strauss says. Consider alternatives such as educating the patient about related diseases, procedures, or preventive health measures. "We’ve seen some facilities beginning to install computer terminals — without speakers — that offer patient education materials," he says.

Create a healing environment.

No one color is right or wrong for decorating, says Alana McKenzie, interior designer with Marshall Urdman and Associates architectural firm in Madison, WI. "Each individual has his or her own tastes. What makes one person feel warm and fuzzy may be off-putting to the next," she says. "The important thing is to select a color combination that is pleasing and relaxing."

Natural lighting, adds Halverson, goes a long way to creating a healing environment. "We always try to use an exterior window for the reception and waiting area because natural light minimizes that institutional atmosphere," he says.

Strauss agrees. "It doesn’t matter whether the interior is contemporary or traditional, just as long as it feels inviting and is comfortable," he says.