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How Can I Give My Practice a Fresh Look, Without Spending a Fortune?

Roger McGuire

July 7, 2008

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Question

Question: I recently purchased an existing private practice that has operated for 20 years in my hometown. Although the practice has a good reputation and large patient base, it looks very outdated and is not appealing for existing patients, or new patients that I would like to attract. Any suggestions?

Answer

Great question! With changes in technology like the availability of open-fit devices, more cosmetically appealing instruments, and Bluetooth compatible devices, many practitioners are seeing their existing patients more often and also seeing more first-time users. And while changes in technology, education and evidence-based practice means that professionals have improved counseling, fitting and technical skills, few changes have occurred in the actual practice environment, despite the fact that it greatly impacts the patient experience. We know through research that staff morale, efficiency, differentiation from competition, and the subtle non-verbal messages we send to patients can be highly enhanced by the practice environment. And, improvements to our practices don't always have to come with a hefty price tag.

Here are some quick practice makeover tips, for someone with a limited budget or limited time to accomplish a larger renovation. These tips were compiled from the research conducted for our Practice Makeover project, as well as from research we conducted in designing some of our latest products. Best of luck with your new business, and we hope you find these suggestions helpful!

First Impressions Count

You know the saying: You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Your reception/waiting area is usually the first thing your patients see. Like it or not, it speaks volumes about what's inside-and about you. A quart of glossy paint in a bold, cheerful color for the front door, new hardware (or a little elbow grease applied to clean and polish the existing knocker), a new welcome mat, and a trio of seasonal potted plants on the landing will dramatically brighten and refresh your practice's entry and make visitors feel welcome.

Throw it or put it away;conquer clutter

The most important thing most people can do to improve their workplace is to clear out, clean up, and get rid of clutter. Be ruthless as you go about purging - if you haven't used it in three months, box it up and store it away;if you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it. Any mixed feelings you have about tossing antiques from the industry will quickly be replaced with joy in the space and storage you have acquired. Sound daunting? Take it one room at a time. If your bookshelves are bursting at the seams, for instance, clear them off and start over. t's okay to have empty space around your books and knickknacks. Retailers like the Container Store, IKEA and Target sell handy rolling bins designed to slip out of sight and house anything and everything. Your practice will be far more inviting if clutter is out of sight.

Less is More

Don't forget, too, that a cluttered look can also come from too much furniture. People tend to line their walls with furniture and equipment-one piece after another. You don't have to act too drastically, but take a hard look at what you have and ask yourself what you can live without. Another rule of thumb: If you don't use it regularly, lose it. While you're doing this sometimes-painful pruning, remind yourself that every square foot you free up is prime real estate.

Float Furniture

If your furniture is clinging to your walls, you're not alone-it's a typical decorating mistake, stagers say. There's a common belief that rooms will feel larger and be easier to use if all the furniture is pushed up against the walls, but it's simply not true. Instead, furnish your space: Float furniture away from walls, reposition it into conversational groups, and place pieces so that the traffic flow in the room is obvious-in most cases, this means keeping the perimeters clear. When you place furniture in a room, envision a figure-eight or the letter H in the middle, with clear pathways around it. Not only will this make the space more user-friendly, it will open up the room and make it seem larger.

Mix it up

You'd never consider donning the same clothes for days on end, would you? So why force your office to endure the same tired decor year after year? We get used to our surroundings, but they can become stale and stagnant. If a chair has been in the same spot for five years, move it! This also subtly signals to patients that your practice isn't stagnant! When you move things to new spots, you appreciate them again-and give your office a whole new look for nothing.

Rediscover lost spaces

The simple addition of a comfortable armchair, a small table in the consultation suite will take the edge off and put patients at ease during the hearing aid process. Mask the fact that this is a programmed experience. Lose the cords, and transform the consultation suite into a virtual reality room.

Lighting is key

One of the things that make the practice welcoming is great lighting design. Too often, practices are improperly lit-either we have too few fixtures, or lighting is too dim or too harsh (or all of the above). To remedy the problem and make your office more inviting, increase the wattage in your lamps and fixtures (aim for a total of 100 watts for every 50 square feet). Then install dimmers so you can vary light levels according to your mood and the time of day. This is a relatively simple project for a do-it-yourselfer, or you can hire an electrician for a couple of hours to do several at once. (And while you're at it, be sure to replace those dingy, almond-colored light-switch covers with crisp white ones. New covers cost less than a buck apiece and are a quick, easy update.)

Use color splashes

Painting is the cheapest, easiest way to give your practice new look. Even if you were weaned on off-white walls, take a chance and test out a quart of paint in a warm, neutral hue (you can always paint over it if you don't like the effect). These days, the definition of "neutral" extends way beyond beige- from warm tans and honeys to soft blue-greens.

Even deeper shades are enjoying a renaissance and can make the space more intimate, dramatic, and cozy-and surprisingly, it can even make a small room seem bigger because there's no delineation of the corners.

Consider painting an accent wall to draw attention. Either paint the wall a contrasting but complementary color (such as a rich red flanked by taupe walls) or a more intense version of the paint used in the rest of the room (a deep butterscotch that plays off the soft camel walls surrounding it).

Hang your art for the patient

If your office is like most, art is hung in a high line encircling each room. Big mistake: Placing your pictures, paintings, and prints in such stereotypical spots can render them almost invisible. Art displayed creatively makes the art stand out more and shows off your space.

Break up that line and vary the patterning and grouping by hanging a row of art diagonally-with each piece staggered a bit higher or lower than the next (great for directing the eye toward an architectural feature like a window or arched doorway), triangularly-with one picture above, one below, and one beside (a nice accent for a table-and-chair vignette), or in a vertical line (perfect for accentuating a high ceiling). And try hanging things a bit lower than you're used to, so that wall art relates to furniture groupings rather than floating (and getting lost) in its own space.

Roger McGuire serves as Business Project Manager at Oticon Inc. Mr. McGuire has over 17 years of industry experience in sales and marketing, with particular emphasis in business development and industry "best practices". For more information about Oticon, log onto www.oticonusa.com or you can visit the Oticon Web Channel on Audiology Online at www.audiologyonline.com/channels/oticon.asp


Roger McGuire

Business Project Manager, Oticon


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