Managing Your Practice

Visit your office



Every year around now, as spring begins to revive the landscape, I like to take a tour of my office from the perspective of a patient visiting our facility for the first time, because more often than not, the internal environment could use a bit of a revival as well.

We tend not to notice gradual deterioration in the workplace we inhabit every day: Carpets fade and dull with constant traffic and cleaning; wallpaper and paint accumulate dirt, stains, and damage; furniture gets dirty and dented, fabric rips, hardware goes missing.

When did you last take a good look at your waiting room? Have your patients been snacking and spilling drinks in there, despite the signs begging them not to? Is the wallpaper smudged on the walls behind chairs, where they rest their heads? How are the carpeting and upholstery holding up?

Even if you don’t find anything obvious, it’s wise to check periodically for subtle evidence of age: Find some patches of protected carpeting and flooring – under desks, for example – and compare them with exposed floors.

And look at the decor itself; is it dated or just plain old looking? Any interior designer will tell you he or she can determine quite accurately when a space was last decorated, simply by the color and style of the materials used. If your office is stuck in the ’90s, it’s probably time for a change.

If you’re planning a vacation this summer (and I hope you are), that would be the perfect time for a redo. Your patients will be spared the dust and turmoil, tradespeople won’t have to work around your office hours, and you won’t have to cancel any hours that weren’t already canceled. Best of all, you’ll come back to a clean, fresh environment.

Start by reviewing your color scheme. If it’s hopelessly out of date and style, or if you are just tired of it, change it. Wallpaper and carpeting should be long-wearing industrial quality, paint should be high-quality eggshell finish to facilitate cleaning, and everything should be professionally applied. (This is neither the time nor place for do-it-yourself experiments.) And get your building’s maintenance crew to fix any nagging plumbing, electrical, or heating/air conditioning problems while pipes, ducts, and wires are more readily accessible.

If your wall decorations are dated and unattractive, now would be a good time to replace at least some of them. This need not be an expensive proposition. I recently redecorated my exam room walls with framed photos from my travel adventures, to very positive responses from patients and staff alike. If you’re not an artist or photographer, invite family members, local artists, or talented patients to display some of their creations on your walls.

Plants are great accents and excellent stress reducers for apprehensive patients, yet many offices have little or no plant life. If you are hesitant to take on the extra work of plant upkeep, consider using one of the many corporate plant services that rent you the plants, keep them healthy, and replace them as necessary.

Furniture is another important element in keeping your office environment fresh and inviting. You may be able to resurface and reupholster what you have now, but if not, shop carefully. Beware of nonmedical products promoted specifically to physicians, as they tend to be overpriced. If you shop online, remember to factor in shipping costs, which can be considerable for furniture. Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts; you won’t get them if you don’t ask.

This is also a good time to clear out old textbooks, magazines, and files that you will never open again – not in this digital age.

Finally, spruce-up time is an excellent opportunity to inventory your medical equipment. We’ve all seen vintage offices full of gadgets that were state-of-the-art decades ago. Nostalgia is nice, but would you want to be treated by a physician whose office could be a Smithsonian exhibit titled, “Doctor’s Office Circa 1975?” Neither would your patients, for the most part. In fact, many of them – particularly younger ones – assume that doctors who don’t keep up with technologic innovations don’t keep up with anything else, either.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News.

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