Shave your waiting time with an office redesign

Planning can help you optimize the use of space

Are you looking for a way to increase staff efficiency, maximize the time physicians are in the office, and keep your patients happy at the same time? Redesigning your office space may be the answer.

You may need to add space or just redesign the space you have. But if you plan carefully, your efforts can make your office run more smoothly.

But, don’t just run out and lease more space. Plan carefully to make sure your investment will pay off.

The first step in redesigning office space is deciding what goals you want to achieve, advises Mike Boguszewski, manager for Hamilton HMC, a Minneapolis consulting firm.

Are you trying to utilize each examining room to the fullest or to maximize the physicians’ time when they are in the office? "It’s hard to do both. One is the principal around which you flex the other."

The third factor is maximizing the patient convenience with a minimal waiting time, he adds. "Physician office design . . . can’t be done in isolation. It has to be done with the scheduling and throughput system you have," he says.

The best plan is to try to achieve a balance between patient convenience and the desired physician productivity and room utilization, he adds. "The goal is to be efficient in your room count. The assumption is that the practice won’t want to pay for space that isn’t utilized. But you don’t want to have fewer rooms than you need because that wastes doctor time or wastes patient waiting time," Boguszewski says.

If you are in a highly competitive market, lengthy patient waiting time could send your patients to other physicians. "Many physicians put a lot of stock in the rapport they have with patients but extreme delays can affect the relationship," he points out.

At the very least, your patients may hesitate to recommend your practice to friends because of the long waits, he adds.

You don’t need to do anything as formal as a time-motion study to determine how many rooms you practice needs. If the physicians and office staff sit down together, they can usually figure it out, Boguszewski says.

Look at the number of physicians who are working and the amount of time in any given practice day they have for an actual visit. Include what is attached to each visit. For instance, each visit may require 15 minutes of hands-on time, five minutes of chart review, and five minutes of charting.

Compile the blocks of time depending on the specialty or the practice and figure out what you have available.

Look at what the patient volume is and what kinds of patient load you want to have. It may be driven by physician availability and practice patterns. For instance, one physician might see eight patients in a day but another physician could see 16.

Don’t count on your rooms being utilized 100% of the time, Boguszewski warns.

"To believe that a room will be 100% productive is folly. Things will happen. A patient will fall. Undiagnosed things will crop up. The doctor will get an emergency call. The rooms may sit empty or a patient may need to wait in a room." he adds.

Typically in a private practice setting, you should plan for a room to be utilized no more than 80% of the time. So if you have 12 patients who take one hour each, you don’t need just 12 hours worth of room time. You really need 15 hours worth because of the 80% utilization expectation. If a practice is largely pediatric or obstetric, Boguszewski suggests closer to 70% to 75% utilization because you can expect more walk-in appointments and more unexpected presentations.