Plan a medical office layout

By Peter Weverka

A medical office may be called an "office," but it's an office like no other:

  • A medical office has an extraordinary amount of foot traffic — patients going to labs and examination rooms and staff members scrambling to meet patients' needs.
  • A medical office functions as a warehouse for a wide variety of supplies — from tongue suppressors to computer disks — that have to be carefully handled and stocked and always ready.
  • A medical office requires patients to check in, which creates more demands on administrative staff and also creates a necessity for a physical barrier between staff members and patients who are waiting.

The particular demands of a medical office also require a unique office layout. How you arrange your medical office can contribute to your office's efficiency and comfort.

You can more effectively meet your medical office's particular demands by considering how to arrange your examination rooms and your office layout.

Arrange a medical examination room

The first step in arranging examination rooms is to ask staff members for suggestions. Administrators, receptionists, nurses, medical assistants, and physicians all have practical needs that you should consider in your design.

The layout of examination rooms should incorporate such elements as uniformity, storage space, patients' privacy, and writing surfaces for physicians.

Uniform layout

Physicians and nurses often prefer examination rooms that are arranged consistently, with the all supplies in the same places in each room. This consistency allows them to find supplies easily and quickly, no matter which examination room they use.

Storage space

Consider how to use storage space productively. Every inch of extra storage space in an examination room means fewer staff trips to the supply room to replenish supplies. Ideally, an examination room should accommodate enough supplies so that it requires replenishing only daily.

Examination tables and writing tables

To help protect patients' privacy, position the examination table in a corner of the room so that patients won't be visible to passersby in the hallway if the door is open.

To facilitate physicians' note-taking as they examine and question patients, each examination room should contain a writing table. The writing table should be positioned close to the examination table so that physicians or staff members can remain in close contact with patients.

Additionally, garbage receptacles should be unobtrusive and out of patients' way. They can be built into cabinets or positioned in a corner of the room.

Arrange an entire medical office

A medical office should be a comfortable place that patients don't mind visiting. It also should be functional by having the ability to accommodate many patients on a daily basis. You can meet these goals by carefully laying out and arranging your entire medical office.

Minimize foot traffic

To minimize noise and other distractions, to protect patients' privacy, and to create a more organized office, it is important to keep patient traffic in the hallways to a minimum.

  • Preliminary examination station     You can reduce patient hallway traffic by placing a preliminary examination station just beyond the reception area. As patients enter your medical office, staff members can perform basic tasks, such as taking temperatures or vital signs, in this preliminary examination area. Afterward, staff members can escort patients to an examination room, where patients are then seen by a physician or other staff member.
  • Laboratory facilities     If your office contains laboratory facilities, don't position the facilities at the rear of the office — patients who require only laboratory work must then pass examination rooms to reach the lab. Keeping lab facilities a short distance from the preliminary examination station reduces foot traffic in the office.

Help patients feel comfortable in the waiting room

Unless the majority of your patients are young children, who require more space than adults, your medical office waiting area does not need to be large. Even if the waiting room is small, patients can be comfortable in a pleasant, well-lighted space with colorful decor, drinking water, and a good selection of reading material. A large, cavernous waiting area can actually have the opposite effect and cause patients to feel uncomfortable.

The goal is to make patients feel more comfortable from the moment that patients enter your medical office.

Pay attention to the environment

Your medical office environment may play a role in patients' healing and in their attitudes toward their physicians and other staff members. For that reason, office furnishings, wall decorations, lighting, and color choices matter more in medical offices than in most other types of offices. Carefully consider your office's environment, and seek the advice of an interior designer or similar professional, if necessary.

Use a layout planning tool

Diagramming tools such as Microsoft Office Visio Professional 2003 can help you meet the challenges and complexities of laying out and arranging medical examination rooms and medical offices. You can use a diagramming program to:

  • Create a layout diagram of individual examination rooms that shows cabinets, office equipment, and furniture.
  • Map out an entire office to get an idea of how staff members and patients would flow through your office.
  • Present examination room and medical office layouts to designated staff members so that they can review and approve layout proposals.
  • Arrange and rearrange the layout as you incorporate suggestions from colleagues and staff.

A layout planning program can help you revise your layout as your medical office's needs and equipment change.

The advantages of good design

Laying out medical examination rooms and medical offices requires meeting the particular needs of your medical staff and your patients. By thoughtfully designing your medical office, you can increase your office's efficiency and effectively meet your patients' healthcare needs. You can also demonstrate your medical office's professionalism, quality of care, and concern for patients — all of which add up to happier, healthier patients, as well as staff members.

About the author     Peter Weverka is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California. He has written many computer books as well as articles for various publications, including Harper's Magazine and SPY Magazine.

Applies to:
Visio 2003