Cost Effective Design Changes Medical Practices Can Make

Here are some suggestions to consider that are effective and cost sensitive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on almost every medical practice in the US. Many have had to limit delivery of care or find new strategies to keep patients and staff safe. Interior design and furniture can play a role in infection prevention, often using items already in place. Here are some suggestions to consider that are effective and cost sensitive.

Expand telehealth

Many practices are investing in expanding their telehealth capabilities during this time, which especially fits the needs of patients who have chronic conditions or need follow-up care and are uncomfortable leaving home and risking infection. Telehealth services offer greater safety for both patients and staff – they also save time, resources (including PPE) and have a positive impact on the environment.

Carefully consider what types of patients can safely be seen and monitored remotely and ensure that any temporary telemedicine spaces meet current HIPPA requirements. Staff will need appropriate equipment – monitors, cameras, microphones, workspaces and a stable internet connection. Investing in expanding your current telehealth programs can increase patient satisfaction, ensure that non-COVID health conditions are treated safely and a continued revenue stream for your practice. 

Manage patient flow

Waiting and common areas have the potential to be a calming, comforting space, but daily use by multiple individuals mean they are also a place where infections can be passed from person to person. Managing the flow of patients in your facility is critical to keeping everyone safe.

Set clear policies on arrival times, mask compliance and visitors/companions and ensure that patients are notified in advance of their visit. Making sure that patients do not enter the facility until close to their appointment time limits capacity and lowers risk. Unless absolutely necessary, visitors should not be permitted into the facility. Make sure that hand hygiene supplies are easily accessible and that masks are provided when needed.

Some practices are eliminating waiting rooms during the pandemic and escorting patients directly to an exam room to wait for a caregiver. If that is not possible, ensure that your waiting space supports infection prevention. That may mean removing chairs, or blocking off seats to preserve social distancing. After a chair has been used, consider placing a laminated tag on the seat notifying others that the chair should not be used. Once the seat has been sanitized by staff, the chair can be returned to use. Portable dividers can be an effective method of creating separation and offering privacy—and can be reused in other office spaces once they are no longer required in the waiting area.

Technology can help make waiting more enjoyable and have long-term benefits for your practice. Offering a guest WiFi network gives patients the chance to work, decompress and stay entertained while they wait for care. Consider installing self check-in kiosks or offering the option to check in for appointments digitally. This eliminates a point of infection and saves on staff time. 

Use the right materials

Consistent and thorough cleaning is critical to infection control. That applies to furniture and fixtures as well. Using harsh disinfectants can take a toll on materials like wood and fabric, causing them to degrade quickly and fail. When cleaning, follow the manufacturer’s instructions (paying attention to dwell times needed to eliminate bacteria) and be sure to rinse with clean water afterward to remove chemical residues and help prolong material life. Ask if the cleaners you are using can safely be applied to your chosen material.

Standard upholstery and wood can add a warm, welcoming look to your space, but both are porous and cannot be disinfected effectively. Fabric in particular can trap and hold bacteria deep within fibers, making this material a real challenge to clean between uses. It is worth considering replacing wood or fabric items with more durable, cleanable options made from vinyl and metal. These materials are far more durable, can be easily cleaned and have a higher resistance to chemical disinfectants, ensuring a longer useful life.

Take care of the front line

This pandemic has been very stressful, especially for healthcare workers. Ensure that your team has dedicated spaces to rest and recharge during long and demanding shifts. Provide comfortable seating, along with tables and chairs for a quick meal. These areas should be completely separated from patient care spaces, with access to a restroom, a place to store personal belongings and a place to take a break and eat. 

Giving staff a welcoming space to decompress and rest helps prevent burnout and fatigue – and can help prevent medical errors. If possible, provide natural daylight and access to the outside, which can help users relax. Don’t forget to include all staff. Maintenance, office workers and cleaners (among others) are working hard to keep spaces clean, safe and functioning during this stressful time.

Managing a medical practice during a global pandemic is a challenge – there is a responsibility to ensure safety for your patients, your employees and the community. Making small, inexpensive changes now can have a large payoff down the road in increasing patient and staff satisfaction. 

Terry is director of healthcare sales at National Business Furniture with more than 20 years of industry experience.