Your dated doctor’s office might be costing you money

By Jonathan Ford Hughes | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published September 14, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • A poor office design can inadvertently push patients to another physician’s practice.

  • Ineffective use of space also limits staff productivity, also costing you money.

  • Patients form opinions about your practice based on how the space looks and how they feel about it when they’re inside.

Regardless of whether you’re an employed physician or in private practice, the space in which you work evokes feelings of comfort or discomfort in patients. Wouldn’t you rather they be comfortable, satisfied, returning patients? Happier, more comfortable patients are more likely to come back to your practice when they require your services again, experts say. It might be time to consider an office overhaul.

To better understand medical office design priorities, we spoke with Georgia-based interior designer Libby Laguta, and Florida-based interior designer Christy D. Lederer, both members of the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers.

Design and your bottom line

Poor interior office design can hurt your practice, Laguta and Lederer say. Unwelcoming office spaces can reduce patient volume or inadvertently steer patients to other physicians with more comfortable spaces.

Lederer advocates for creating a welcoming atmosphere in your office space. Comfortable furniture and art help. Artwork and interesting architectural features may take a patient’s mind away from treatment- or exam-related anxiety. You could even take a more active approach to help them relax.

“There was a dentist’s office I saw that incorporated a massage chair in a waiting room that was received very well,” Lederer says.

Laguta says if patients have voiced dissatisfaction, if you’re moving to a new facility, or your practice or hospital has been purchased by another entity, it’s time to revisit interior design.

Mergers and acquisitions can freak patients out, but a well-designed space will give them a feeling of reassurance, making them more likely to return. 

Remember, good design is aesthetic and functional. For example, how often are patients getting lost in your office or facility?  Lederer says improving way-finding elements, such as clear signage, will help.

Poor design also limits office staff productivity. The typical design culprit behind productivity loss, Laguta says, is wasted space. 

"If the space supports the physician and task, then goals are met, they work more efficiently, and revenue increases as a result."

Libby Laguta

When designing your office to maximize profitability, Lederer says there are 2 priorities:

“Functionality for workers, and appeal for patients and workers, so patients and their families feel comfortable and have confidence in the facility. This brings more people in and makes the facility more profitable.”

Most common problems

According to Laguta, first impressions are everything, and a patient’s first impression of your office is inseparable from how the design makes them feel and think.

“A logical and easy flow to each step in the patient’s journey through the space is noticed,” Laguta says.

"Design is not just about color and visual. It’s about the patient’s flow and the staff’s flow through the space."

Libby Laguta

Your office design must also meet the needs of your patient population, Laguta says.

“The major problem doctors offices initially face is lack of commercial-grade finishes and furnishings or not addressing a changing patient population toward an increase in Baby Boomers,” Laguta says. “As patients age, they need more supportive furnishing such as chairs with arms to push themselves up and out of a chair.”

What your patients feel

Doctors should be mindful of patients’ feelings regarding the office. As soon as they step foot into the waiting room, patients can feel either comfortable or tense depending on the room’s design.

“The first impression of the practice is the waiting area,” Laguta says. “A patient and family sees that if the design is up to date, then the practice must be as well. In addition, if the waiting area is the only area that is well-designed, and the level of finishes drops significantly once the patient goes through the door to the hallway into exam rooms, then the patient’s apprehension level goes up. It’s important to know appropriate materials to continue the level of design throughout the facility.”

Of course, the design of one medical facility—say a larger hospital system that sees a steady, continuous stream of patients coming and going—can be drastically different from another, smaller facility, Laguta notes.

“Wear and tear of the finish and fabric selections can be different depending on the volume of patients,” says Laguta. “Hospitals with 24-hour care have additional considerations such as infection control and more rigorous cleaning methods. This requires knowledge of appropriate materials tested to withstand the rigor.”

What you can do

According to Laguta, the first step physicians can take is getting to know more about the patients under their care and find out more about what they’re looking for in their doctor’s office.

“Talk to patients,” says Laguta. “Know their demographics and certainly listen and address their needs.”

After that, it’s only a matter of speaking with the interior designer right for you, and expressing your concerns, wants, and needs to them as you both work together to design the perfect office for you and any potential patients that come through your front doors.

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