You may find it odd, but I love facility planning! In fact, I have led facility planning endeavors for an entire Maternity & NICU floor in a hospital, renovated physician offices as well as entire new free-standing comprehensive weight loss facilities and consulted on others.
So, if it is time for you to build, expand or renovate your practice, I have 5 tips to help you avoid potential financial and functional office flow mistakes. Even better, these tips can help you keep your sanity and actually have some fun throughout the process.
In fact, my husband and I applied them to the creation of our home as well. Our design started on a napkin at a restaurant and since then, we saw it come to life and have lived in this home for just over 20 years. If you design your space correctly, it can serve you and your family well for years. It’s the same way with your practice facility – the ‘home’ for you and those you serve.
Here are my top 5 tips (plus a bonus one) to keep in mind whether you’re renovating, moving to another location or building a brand-new facility.
1. Make sure that it is the right time.
It is easy to get caught up with what your competition is doing and feel as if you need to keep up. Yet, you and your business may not be ready from a financial or team perspective. You want to make it a positive experience and having necessary funding for the current economy. You also need to involve your team to create a design that supports efficiency and great patient flow.
As I mentioned, I have worked with large healthcare organizations throughout the planning and build processes of facility planning as well as group practices, and solo practitioners. No matter which category you fit into, you need to make sure that you are financially prepared because there are typically some unexpected things that come up. It is not uncommon for the city to require additional zoning or a new BMP. Or perhaps the parking lot needs to have some additional work or drainage provisions. These unavoidable ‘extras’ tend to add up and you want to make sure you’re prepared for that.
If you are a solo practitioner, you want to make sure that you have saved up additional resources for this or enough savings to carry you through in case it affects your income in any way. Going into personal debt may seem like a viable option, but warrants careful consideration. You can make practice changes to cover this expense, but it is best to have it up front and have conservative projections outlined in your business plan.
If you’re building a new building be sure to carefully consider your location. For many physician offices, you may be in a medical office building or if you are with a large healthcare organization designated space has been pre-determined. For weight loss practitioner, in my experience, you will benefit from having a location that is visible such as on a busy main thoroughfare. You may think about physician offices as being a ‘destination-bound’ entity, meaning that people will search you out and come find you wherever you. However, for weight loss physicians, your location can greatly contribute to your success and growth. As potential patients drive by your location day after day, your visibility will pay off and when the time comes for weight loss, you are more likely to be top of mind – especially if you utilize your location for trust building marketing efforts.
2. Have your vision first (and a buy-in from all of the partners if you have partners in the organization).
There’s nothing worse than handing off your renovation or building to someone else because you don’t want to deal with it. You think they will do a great job and perhaps they will, but unless you communicate your vision, you may end up very disappointed. Also, make sure that you have a buy-in and likeminded goals if you have partners involved. There’s nothing worse than having partners who are at odds with each other because they have different goals and different visions. I have been through this on more than one occasion, when I used to work with many OB/GYN physicians, perinatologists, general surgeons, bariatric surgeons and bariatric physicians – and it is not pleasant. You want to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that your joint (agreed upon vision) is driving all activities.
When I talk about vision, it involves everything – from services provided, your environment and decor, your ‘vibe’, your branding and so much more. How do you want to serve your patients? What growth do you foresee? Have you included this growth in your plans? You want to think those things through and make sure that your vision is crystal clear.
My husband, Tom is an awesome visionary. He thinks about things that I might not because I can get caught up in the details. I know the look and feel that I want but he’ll keep his eye on the larger vision. For example, in our home, he made sure that all of the hallways are wide enough that we never feel closed in. We’re very open, informal people so we wanted to have a very open feeling house. In our practice, he was the one who came up with a lot of considerations for future growth. Quite frankly, I was a little bit nervous about that vision. Nonetheless, I trusted him and created the business plan and budget to support our current situation as well as growth. Always consider what will serve the patient best, what will serve your team best and what will serve you best. This includes aesthetics, patient flow, storage, and everything that goes into the services and products you provide for your patients.
3. Create a detailed business plan and budget.
It’s always amazing to me that some banks will loan a great deal of money without even seeing a business plan. Even if this is the case for you, you will do yourself a great service by creating a business plan and having a budget that goes along with it. This creates a roadmap for success and validates your ideas and plan. Even if they are not required for financing (or if you don’t require financing), business plans are so important. When you outline your proposed expenses, your plan for growth and map that out over the next 5 years or so, it is much easier to bring your plans to life. It also provides a conservative budget and benchmarks to track your progress.
As you progress through your facility planning process and implementation, you want to make sure that your builder/contractors are fully aware of your timeframe, what your budget is, where you may have some wiggle room and where there are hard boundaries. When this is created ahead of time, you will serve yourself so well and prevent headaches down the road as well as some potentially devastating surprises.
4. Do your due diligence when selecting your bank, your contractor, your architect and anyone you’re going to use for interior design.
You want to make sure that you interview and select people who have a great reputation. Be sure to check references and validate they fully understand your vision. Ensure there are no hidden agendas or hidden costs. This will make the difference between having a pleasant experience and having one that creates intense frustration. This relates to everyone you may select to help you bring your vision to life.
For example, at one point we took an old 7-11 and renovated it. We had to be very creative and having the right team in place made all of the difference. And when we built our current comprehensive 10,000 square foot facility, the same principles played out to create a positive experience. Even if you are in a hospital setting or large health system, those decisions might not be up to you, but you do want to have an interaction with the chosen team and clearly communicate your vision. In the end, you (or your trusted designee) will be responsible for making sure everything goes according to plan. Be wary if you are not included in the process. If you find that is the case, volunteer to be involved – your administrators will likely find you and your fresh perspective a welcomed offer.
5. Involve your team.
You may know exactly what you want and what your vision is and fear that team involvement will muddy the waters or slow progress down. However, involving the team is exactly what creates a great flow in your office and improves buy-in and commitment to you and your vision. You can (and should) certainly give parameters and guidelines but including them will likely make your job easier.
For example, when I was in a large health system as an administrator, I had responsibility for building out a brand-new wing for integrated labor & delivery, NICU, mother/baby and general nursery services. Including the team made all of the difference in the world. In fact, actually built a sample Labor/Delivery/Recovery (LDR) room down in the basement of the hospital. By mapping out the exact square footage and efficient layout that supported our vision, we created buy in from the entire delivery team and integrated many ideas that made the outcome outstanding. We even designed some of the furniture with our furniture company that was added to their catalogue for other customers. We integrated furniture, equipment, and our ideal care delivery system for optimal function and patient/team satisfaction.
I was so proud of the team effort and when it came time to move into the new unit, the transition went smoothly. The team pitched in and couldn’t wait to work in the environment they helped to create. It was such a positive and beautiful experience. Granted, it wasn’t easy and there some mishaps along the way. We knew what we wanted and struggled at times, but in the end we all felt connected and proud.
Another example is our comprehensive weight loss facility here in Virginia. A small part of my vision was a clutter free environment (I have this thing about clutter and hand-written signs). I know people are busy and ‘clutter happens’ but I IT company so that technology was slick and out of sight. They were able to work with that and in the end, it turned out great. I let team members guide the design of their own space and be involved so their space supported their role. This not only created buy-in from the team, but it also created a much higher functionality.
Finally, working with our contractor, we knew that we wanted to consider the needs of our morbidly obese patients – we wanted this to be a place where they knew they were respected and felt at home. We made sure no area felt small or closed in and were extremely careful as we selected all of our furniture and fixtures. Our designs had our patients and our team driving decisions (within budget) and success stories adorn the walls providing for a smooth flow, comprehensive services and room for growth.
6. As an added bonus tip, don’t miss the marketing opportunity for your grand opening or your re-opening of your practice.
When you do a grand opening, a lot of times people think of it as ‘I have this great facility, I have all these great things’ and they talk about what the facility includes. This is important, but what your patients care about is what it is going to do for them.
You want to turn some of those things into benefits. To say that you have a large, state-of-the-art facility is nice, but what does that mean for the patient? Does it mean one-stop shopping? Does it mean convenience or concierge service? Does it mean that they can come there and lose anywhere from 5 to hundreds of pounds? Does it mean that you have a new program designed to help them overcome their barriers to weight loss success? How are you different and exactly how can you help them be successful?
As you likely know, there are different things that people will pay for. One is experience, that experience is not only in yourself and your clinicians but also in the experience they are going to have in your practice. They’ll also pay for something that is different or exclusive. Having something that’s exclusive that you offer is another thing that attracts patients. So, when you do a grand opening or reopening, have some creativity for it.
For example, back in 2010 when we opened our new comprehensive facility, we used our old office next door that was being torn down as our event. We had a ‘Build Your Dreams & Demolish Your Excuses’ event. We actually had people come into the old building and spray paint their excuses on the walls before the wrecking ball took it down. They could see all of their excuses being tumbled down in the rubble and carried away. It was a great way to help patients visually overcome their struggles and celebrate their success. We also used it as a media event. It was a great opportunity. So take whatever it is that you’re doing and turning it into something fun!
Finally, we later had a grand opening for our new comprehensive center. We highlighted the success of our patients with a ‘Stars of Success’ event. We used Hollywood type glass stars displayed in the classroom and had patients sign their ‘star’ and include their overall weight loss before it went on the wall. We had a full event that day that will not be forgotten. There are just so many fun ways to launch your new practice, to launch your grand opening or reopening. Just remember to celebrate your patient’s success and focus on them.
I love helping others bring their vision to life as well. For example, I worked with one group of surgeons who were building out a new facility. This particular building was existing, included a second floor and was a major renovation. They had created the space but there were a number of functionalities that we ended up diving deep on. One of them was the practice managers office. She oversees the team but her office was located on the second floor. From a functionality standpoint, this would not optimal. She needed to be in the main area where to oversee day to day operations and be able to proactively assist her team. We ended up revising the main floor to include privacy yet a way for her to oversee flow and moved other non-essential administrative operations upstairs. In the same space, they wanted to add retail but hadn’t provided for any location. Initially, they didn’t have a team to help with the retail side of it so we were able to work out a space right off the main lobby that was close enough to the front desk and yet still provided for retail sales now as well as future retail growth.
When I reviewed the plans, the restrooms required patients in the reception area to go through the office area in order to access them. We were able to rework the plumbing and flow to provide restroom access from the main lobby. This was a much more effective use of space and much better patient flow.
There are clearly many things to think about. Things such as entrances, restrooms, fire safety, ADA requirements, among other details. However, when you’re caught up in your day to day practice and taking care of patients, you may not recognize. Having your team involved as well as an outside ‘eye’ can help bridge the gap and prevent longer term issues.
I hope you find these tips helpful. If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. And did you know? I also do free opportunity audits – just a conversation focused on YOU and how to uncover hidden opportunities within your practice. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to talking with you!