Redesigning your look: 5 reasons for new medical office furniture

March 19, 2015

Medical office furniture makes an important and lasting impression on patients. Now may be the right time to assess the condition of your furniture and see if an upgrade is necessary.

How long has it been since you’ve assessed the condition of the furniture in your medical office or clinic? Now may be the right time to revisit your procurement strategy. Given limited budgets and competing priorities, it’s tempting to say “Good enough” or “No one will care” when it comes to refreshing or replacing your furniture.

But is postponing purchasing decisions an effective strategy to manage your investment and build your brand?

Furniture: A Frontline of Your Practice Space or Clinic

Your furniture should be one of the top considerations in any discussion about the appearance your office or clinic space.  It’s on the frontline of infection control, patient comfort and your “brand.”

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How long has it been since you updated or replaced your furniture? Are you satisfied with how it’s holding up?  And does it convey a desired look throughout your office or facility?

In addressing these questions, consider the following:

1. Condition – Does the condition of your furniture put your practice in the best light? Are there scratches in the arms, legs or frames?  Is seating or tables broken?  Are the upholstery and finishes stained, worn, torn or cracking?

Try to envision what new patients see when they walk into your office for the first time. Is the first impression a good one?  Does it convey a sense of organization and professionalism?

Well-maintained offices instill confidence and contribute to a welcoming environment – an important contributor to higher patient satisfaction survey scores.

2. Infection Control/Safety – When purchased, were your furniture choices based solely on aesthetics or budgetary reasons or were they chosen with a healthcare environment in mind?  Are surfaces non-porous and smooth?  Is your furniture easily maintained and cleaned? And if needed, is it adjustable for your staff’s ergonomic needs?

Today, it is important that your furniture incorporate infection control technology including anti-microbial fabric, polyurethane arm caps, field replaceable backs and seats, and metal or resin non-wood frames.

3. Patient Mix – Does your furniture reflect your current patient needs and demographics?

The growing number of bariatric patients have unique seating requirements and elderly patients often have a more difficult time getting in and out of chairs.  

Another consideration. Is your current furniture configuration adequate to handle the higher number of patients who frequently bring more family members when seeing a doctor or getting medical attention?

4. Practice Brand – Is your furniture a patchwork of different styles – the result of replacing furniture on an as needed, ad hoc basis?  Or does it communicate a consistent look and feel of your “brand?”

Especially in the world of retail medicine, your brand increasingly plays a more prominent role in how patients select a healthcare provider.  

5. Warranty Expiration and Depreciation – Do you still have the manufacturers’ warranties for your furniture, understand each of their terms and conditions or know whether they have expired?  

If your warranties have expired, you may want to consider replacing your furniture -- especially if you can no longer take a standard depreciation allowance.

NEXT PAGE: What to do and what to avoid

Toward a More Manageable Furniture Strategy: Do’s and Don’ts

Whether you are larger clinic or a practice, don’t base your furniture procurement strategy on solely price or aesthetics. Furniture in the health care environment is another piece of equipment used to treat patients and should be selected as such.

When buying furniture, make patient and staff comfort, safety and well being your top priority.

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While potentially cheaper in the short term, look for brands that can handle the demands of an healthcare environment. They may be somewhat more expensive, but you have to repair and replace them less often.  Avoid custom furniture; it is more expensive and also difficult to replace.

Finally, consider furniture standardization for larger facilities and practices with multiple locations furniture.  Avoiding multiple brands allows facility managers to manage inventory more effectively and integrate existing furniture into other spaces should clinic locations need to change or expand. Staff will be more familiar with the product -- making budget planning and design decisions easier.

So as we start the new year, make a more effective furniture procurement strategy a resolution you keep.

Dan Greenfield, CDT and Patricia Fortenberry, IIDA are co-founders of Health Space Design, a medical interior designs and architectural services firm.