Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Medical Office Architect

Published in December 2011 MedMonthly Magazine as Cover Story

By Whitney L.J. Howell

Step inside an office in a long-standing San Francisco financial building, and you’ll see smooth, heavy timber columns and exposed wood joists. The brick walls are accented by modern colors, and three large lamps strike a dramatic image over a wood veneer reception desk.

With this sleek appearance, any visitor would be forgiven for assuming he or she had entered the headquarters of a progressive venture capital firm. But this is, in fact, the home for One Medical Group, a patient-centric, primary care medical office that offers longer, same-day appointments.

“There’s been so much buzz in San Francisco about One Medical Group,” said Justin Martinkovic, principal and co-founder of MMA Medical Architects, a San Francisco-based architectural firm that specializes in designing modern medical offices for all specialties. “People have been known to walk in and think they’re in the wrong space. It’s just not what you expect a doctor’s office to look like.”

And, that’s exactly the intent, he says.

For so long, medical offices have been seen as sterile, functional spaces. Today, however, the health care environment is shifting toward boosting patient satisfaction, and your reimbursement rates will soon be tied to how happy your patients are with the time they spend with you. The impact on your bottom line has prompted many of you to search out innovative ways to set yourselves apart from your competitors.

This is where firms like MMA Medical can help. Over the past decade, they’ve redesigned nearly 50 medical offices.

“We’ve detected a pattern among doctors who are more concerned with how they are perceived and the image they project,” Martinkovic says. “They want to distinguish themselves while still showing patients they have a high level of competency.”

Through a collaborative process, MMA Medical work closely with their doctor-clients to design a welcoming space to not only make existing patients feel more at home, but to also help attract a new, broader clientele.

How It Works

Doctors are often very particular, Martinkovic says. They come to the firm with a clear idea that they want – something. This is where the interview process truly begins. A design team sits down with the physician and runs through a litany of questions. What are your priorities? What is the culture of your office? What specific needs do your staff have? What is the ultimate goal of this redesign? These conversations help the team suss out any space or capital investment challenges.

“The initial interviews are our most intense interaction with the doctors. Through our conversation, we find out what they want and what their routine is,” Martinkovic says. “It’s also a chance for them to really identify what systems they have in place that they like and that work well and what things they need to shed.”

During the next three phases – schematic design, design development, and construction – doctors watch their original office spaces transform into more efficient, patient-focused, streamlined medical facilities. Team members usually present three or four potential designs, and doctors have the final word on which features they want to include, which materials they want to use, and which contractors will do the work.

Beyond that, they can be as involved or as laissez-faire as they choose.

What Changes You Can Expect

At every turn, the health care system is revamping how you practice medicine – the biggest change being the push toward increased health information technology adoption. With the expanding use of digital tools has come a greater need for you to be mobile with laptops, iPads, or tablets.

MMA Medical’s latest design efforts focus on accommodating those needs and making the most efficient use of your space. For example, at Golden Gate Ob/Gyn in San Francisco, most of the private offices have been eliminated. Instead, the design team created work stations – 2 ft x 2 ft spaces with a spot to plug in their laptop and printer – where multiple providers can transfer notes from their mobile devices and input data into patient charts.

Design teams have also made changes to take advantage of cloud-computing. Electronic records once meant you had dedicated space for your system server. Keeping your records in the ether means architects have two options: they can either slice the space devoted to your back-up system to a small closet or move it offsite completely.

“By using the work stations, moving away from private offices, and devoting less space to housing technological equipment, we’re able to focus on patient areas,” Martinkovic says. “Waiting rooms are getting elaborate designs, and it’s all enhancing the patient experience.”

The days of worn upholstery and sliding windows that separate receptionist from patient are gone. Doctors are now looking to infuse part of their personality into the office design, and patients are beginning to expect spaces that are more relaxing and less intimidating.

It’s an added plus, he says, when the design can play off of the doctor’s specialty, as it did with Holland Medical Eye Center in Daly City, Calif. The retail space is often integral to an optometrist’s office, so the architects mimicked the look and feel of glasses when designing the curvature of the walls and desks and orchestrating the lighting so it reflected off surfaces as it does off spectacles.

Healthy Design for the Health Care Provider

Your initial capital investment might be higher, but perhaps one of the biggest benefits that comes with modernizing your office space is the opportunity to go green. Although medical offices are considered to be places that promote health, they have historically been constructed out of “sick” materials, Martinkovic says.

“If you’re going to be charged with keeping people healthy, then a good step is to remove as many toxic pollutants as you can from your office,” he says. “We can also take things a step further and increase an office’s energy efficiency.”

Vinyl flooring, because it is constructed from harmful petrochemicals, is a major culprit in releasing toxins into your office, he says. Any new design should offer you one of three choices for flooring: wood, linoleum, or cork. When properly cleaned and sealed, wood is very resilient. Linoleum is inexpensive and safer than vinyl because it is made from non-toxic linseed oil. Cork can also be easily cleaned and is softer to stand on during an eight-hour day.

In addition, MMA Medical redesigns only use low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints. Removing the VOCs eliminates the chemicals that could induce breathing problems, headache, burning and watery eyes, or nausea in your patients.

Green design can also lower your utility bills. Energy-efficient lights, such as LED or fluorescent lighting, and an energy-efficient HVAC system can reduce your electricity consumption. Martinkovic says designers also build in low-flow water systems to control the amount of water medical offices use each day.

Things to Consider

Giving your office a facelift can be exciting and revitalizing for both you and your staff. But there are many things to consider before you jump in, Martinkovic says.

First, have a frank discussion with your design team about your budget, what the design and construction will cost, and how long it will take. Be prepared for a four-to-six month process. If you haven’t re-outfitted your office before, you could be in for sticker shock. The cost to you will vary by what features you select and by your regional location.

Second, identify your new location and how it will affect your existing and new clients. In this process, you should also determine who your ideal patient is. That model can help you decide which design features will be most appealing to your clientele, he says.

Last, think through the image you want to portray.

“Consider your office to be your suit,” Martinkovic says. “It’s the first impression your patients have of your practice and who you are as a physician.”

To read the story in magazine form: http://issuu.com/medmedia9/docs/mm-decemberweb/27

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December 7, 2011 - Posted by | Healthcare | , , , , , , , ,

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