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Design Your Practice With Patients In Mind

Keeping clientele in mind when designing a practice is important to achieving success.

This centralized treatment area strategically places staff in the middle of the action with easy access to patient cages.

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Veterinary practice construction has come a long way, from cold, stainless steel bars and concrete floors to welcoming places of comfort and compassion.

Regardless of the species or special focus, veterinarians and staff can work more efficiently and patients can rest more comfortably with some guidance by those with years of experience in the veterinary and design-architecture fields.

Specialty practices, from cat-only to equine-only, or procedure-specific clinics such as surgical or emergency practices, share common issues that can be improved in any animal facility, as long as the entire staff and a willing designer are allowed to voice their opinions.

The blunt dissection of architecture and veterinary facilities can be separated into designing new or remodeling current (and usually in-use) structures. The difference ends there. A more finite dissection determines the specific needs and uses the future practice will have.

Consider Consumers

A smart practice owner asks consumers and staff (the staff including the veterinarian as well as the client) what they would like to see in a practice. Often, those in the veterinary field forget that there is another world at the reception desk, or outside the front door. In addition, patient care is  important to both clients and staff who may have different views of what’s important.

Mark Hafen of Gates, Hafen, Cochrane Architects in Boulder, Colo.; Bob Richardson, DVM, of Campus Commons Pet Hospital in Sacramento, Calif.; and Carolyn Canada, practice manager for Veterinary Emergency Clinics of Central Florida; offer input on what they’ve noticed is important and sometimes missed in facility design when the consumers aren’t considered.

The history of the practice should be considered along with where the practice is headed. As Canada says, “Don’t think you aren’t going to grow.”

Whatever you think is enough, double it—double your storage, consider doubling your parking and double the number of outlets, work stations, Internet cable links and counter space. The most used items should be the most durable.

Examine the Details

Adequate plumbing, including installing larger than normal drain pipes throughout, is indispensable, and a “garbage disposal is essential in the treatment room or surgical preparatory area,” said Dr. Richardson.

Hafen said a commonly overlooked necessity is determining the amount of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and electrical required for the future. Often, remodels end up with constant electrical issues because of inadequate circuitry, or new practices outgrow their circuitry, he said. Air circulation is key to minimizing odors and transmission of airborne diseases. 

Canada said laundry facilities are also often overlooked. She recommends industrial washing machines and a couple of heavy-duty dryers (industrial dryers take special requirements).

Flooring and cabinetry should not be afterthoughts, either. As an example, Canada’s practices incorporated a spray-on, semi-rough surface, resulting in a seamless floor that extends four to six inches up the walls and under all cabinets to minimize water seepage and the potential for pathogens to take residence.

They also incorporated drains throughout the hospital for easy cleaning. Canada and Richardson recommended cabinetry made of high-quality materials, no Formica or glued surfaces with joints (especially near water or chemical areas), industrial hinges and recessed pulls to aid in longevity.

Hoses and electrical hookups should be configured into the ceiling along with scavenger hosing to minimize floor obstacles. Flow patterns should work with the practice and its focus areas, not just to look nice or to maximize space.

Richardson and Hafen agreed that focus areas should incorporate the patient-care needs specific to that patient’s size and species to create a low-stress situation. 
Patient cages and exam rooms should be of varying sizes to allow flexibility and individualization for each patient; cat condo cages, bird perches and a nice outdoor yard help decrease patients’ stress.

Doctors should have a place to compose their records and talk to clients on the phone undisturbed, yet also be accessible to the staff and patients at a moment’s notice. Hafen said that studies in human patient care confirm that creating low-stress environments through design allows the patient the ability to rest. Also, natural lighting and airflow help aid a patient’s healing and positive response to its surroundings. 

Place Staff Strategically

The final piece of the equation is adequate and appropriate staffing; appropriately skilled staff should be assigned areas of the hospital that utilize their expertise.

“The staff ultimately provides the care and comfort the patient needs and are essential in all-around patient support” Hafen said. “The care improves with a practice designed to function efficiently and support the needs of the staff. It’s not the grandeur or the color of the walls that bring patients and clients back; it’s the little things that together make a pleasant memory.”

Richardson and Canada added that the smell of a hospital, personal contact, attentive staff and the happiness and well-being of patients are what make consumers happy. Pride in the well-designed, well-functioning practice exudes from each consumer and is the best advertisement a practice owner can buy. Think, ask, plan and re-evaluate, repeatedly. 

Nanette Walker Smith, M.Ed., RVT, CVT, LVT, is the Veterinary Support Personnel Network content director and continuing education coordinator. Among her numerous qualifications, Smith holds an associate’s degree in environmental design and architecture.

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