12 great hospital updates


Are you--and clients--getting bored staring at the same four walls every day? Maybe it's time to give your hospital a new look. If you're not ready to build a new facility, consider an inexpensive design innovation. You'll make your practice a fun, new place again. Choose from such simple projects as a canine agility course or kids' play area to breathe new life into your hospital.

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By Sarah Nichols

When one McDonald's restaurant faced a space dilemma, the owner tore down a wall--and made the building smaller. This may seem like the wrong approach, but the squeeze forced employees to examine traffic flow and suggest improvements. With less space to work, the owner knew everyone would become more efficient.

Likewise, many practice owners face space constraints they can't easily overcome. If you and your employees trip over each other in your cramped facility, it's time to rethink your space. Try these four tips to update your veterinary hospital:

1. Designate a multipurpose room

Creating an efficient hospital can be as simple as evaluating your space and rethinking the purpose of each room, advises Dr. Robin Downing, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Windsor Veterinary Clinic PC in Windsor, Colo., winner of a Practice of Excellence Award. To look at your practice with a fresh perspective, she recommends asking these questions:

Could one of my rooms be turned into a multiuse room? Maybe a doctor's office also could serve as a consultation room.

How often do I use my special procedures room? Most special procedures rooms can double as an exam or consultation room.

Do I have one larger exam room that could serve several purposes? Besides examining animals, you could use this exam room for special procedures or as an overflow area for treatment.

Can I turn an office into a makeshift work space? Maybe one receptionist can answer the phone in a business office and free others to serve visiting clients.

This strategy requires flexibility and compromise from all team members, Dr. Downing says. Employees must be willing to adjust their routines to create a more efficient environment.

At Windsor Veterinary Clinic, the "comfort room" serves multiple functions to conserve space. The 8-by-7 room contains a sink, wall-mounted television, rocking chair, loveseat, and lending library. Staff members use the comfort room for client consultations, a surgery waiting area, a pre-adoption screening room, attended euthanasias, vendor meetings, and even a visiting lounge for hospitalized patients. This flexibility frees other hospital areas for medical purposes.

2. Create a central workstation

Once you've designated a multipurpose room, concentrate on organizing work flow and supplies. Finding one central location to store frequently used supplies and handouts can help you avoid extra steps.

At Bath-Brunswick Veterinary Associates Inc. in Brunswick, Maine, winner of a Practice of Excellence Award, co-owner Dr. Mark Mason, MS, Dipl. ABVP, improved efficiency with a central workstation. "All the rooms radiate off this central station," says Dr. Mason. "That's where we store supplies and focus our traffic flow."

Located in the treatment area, the workstation is equipped with three tables in a T-shaped design and a central lazy Susan accessible from all tables. The lazy Susan is open on at least two sides at all times, so injectibles, syringes, paper towels, gloves, and clippers are within reach, Dr. Mason says. This workstation is located in the busiest part of the veterinary hospital, and employees store lesser-used supplies in other areas. "Our goal is to minimize the number of steps staff members take," he says. "There's enough room around the central workstation for people to move from one side of the room to the other. That saves time and creates efficiency."

This solution may sound simple, but keeping supplies organized is key, Dr. Mason says. Wall-mounted racks throughout the general and specialty practice also keep handouts and medical records at staff members' fingertips. Other valuable tips: Buy bins to store the small tools and supplies you use in practice everyday. Or consider putting your exam tables, kennels, and filing cabinets on wheels.

3. Install a communication center

Effective staff communication is a must when running a busy hospital, but efficiency is vital. "The more limited the square feet, the more people you crowd in small areas and the higher the stress level," says Dr. Eddie Garcia, co-owner of Veterinary Medical Clinic Inc. in Tampa, Fla., winner of a Practice of Excellence Award. "With limited space, you must use it creatively."

At Veterinary Medical Clinic, six doctors and 25 team members work in 3,000 square feet, so traffic flow is tricky. Developing a communication center with message boxes for each employee helped smooth the flow, Dr. Garcia says. Located in the middle of the practice, the center provides a box for each employee's mail, memos, phone messages, and business cards. Team members use the center to communicate with each other daily. In fact, Dr. Garcia often places notes in doctors' communication boxes to avoid interrupting their work.

Communication centers are simple and inexpensive to install. You can build a custom shelving unit with cubby holes or buy an organizer from an office-supply store or catalog. Search the headings "mailroom supplies" or "literature organizers." An organizer with 24 letter-size compartments costs about $80, and a 72-compartment unit costs $200. You can choose tall units that resemble bookshelves or an organizer that sits on a countertop.

"Our communication center minimizes interruptions," says Dr. Garcia. "Constant interruptions stop your train of thought and force you to start over again, causing inefficiency and even mistakes."

4. Learn to look up

Mobility can greatly increase your use of space, says Mark R. Hafen, AIA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and senior principal with Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects PC in Boulder, Colo. "Permanent fixtures and equipment quickly reduce available floor space," he says. "If you can get those bulky items moving and get them up and off the floor, you'll free valuable space."

Hafen created an ideal ergonomic design for Allpets Clinic in Boulder. First he converted a room that contained 10 runs into two exam rooms and a dental suite. In one 12-by-13 room, he created two efficient workstations. "We designed a wall-hung anesthetic machine on a swing arm, so the machine is off the floor," says Hafen. "We also created a rolling dental cart that can be part of the permanent countertop when necessary." In addition, Hafen and his team designed tandem tub tables featuring a swing-arm dental unit in between. Now the floor of the treatment area is completely clear after procedures, Hafen says.

Redefining your space begins with you. Once you see your veterinary hospital in a different light, you may realize you don't need to add square feet to increase efficiency. Before you implement these four tips, evaluate your situation and seek staff members' suggestions. "If you haven't used an item in four years, will you ever use it?" asks Dr. Mason. "Or are you just afraid to throw it away?" Look for opportunities to reduce clutter, organize for efficiency, and give your facility a facelift.

Sarah Nichols, a former assistant editor for Veterinary Medicine Publishing Group, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Mo.

March 2000 Veterinary Economics

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