Veterinary office designs impact how a practice functions for years after a new build or remodel is complete. Good design can reduce patient stress, help patient care flow more smoothly, support longer and slower appointments or allow high-volume clinics to operate efficiently. Poor design can create bottlenecks, increase animal anxiety, and negatively impact staff morale.
Patterson Veterinary Clinic Design Manager Michael Reynolds and Clinic Designer April Cuellar have been helping redesign veterinary spaces for Patterson customers for nearly two combined decades. While creating plans for thousands of practices, they’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Both shared their knowledge of do’s and don’ts in five areas that can make or break practice design.
#1 Approaches to design planning
Underestimate your needs.
Reynolds and Cuellar have seen many clients who fail to adequately plan for their future. In some cases, they see opportunities for cost savings or a way for the build to proceed more quickly. Unfortunately, those kinds of decisions can be more expensive and time-consuming in the long run.
“One doctor decided not to grow his footprint because above a certain number of feet sprinkler installation was required,” said Reynolds. “In less than two years, he was already planning a major addition to his practice due to growth. He had to go back and retrofit the whole building with sprinklers, which was more time and money. In his case, spending extra time to think about what he needed would have saved him money and headaches.”
Carefully think through your clinic’s future.
Reynolds and Cuellar agreed that one of the most important things a practice owner could do to help their design was to carefully consider their future goals prior to finalizing a plan. “Don’t under-anticipate what you think you’ll need,” Reynolds said.
Both designers advise that before embarking on any kind of build or remodel project, owners should think about a range of things including their daily scheduling pace, future growth, and service offerings they hope to provide. They should also take into account functional aspects of their practice such as the desire to hold large-scale community spay/neuter or other health clinics, or a need to add lockers as the clinic grows and more staff is onboarded.
#2 Maintaining special flow and efficiency
It’s easier than you’d think to create an area in the office that prevents patient and staff movement to other parts of the practice. According to Cuellar, “We see it in sketches all the time. For example, a clinic will place a checkout area at the end of a hallway. With that configuration, as clients line up to finish their visit, they’re blocking movement throughout the practice.”
She said that one way to reduce bottlenecks is to place as many entrances and exits as possible throughout the practice. Consider placing them at check-in/out, reception, near exam rooms, or near kennels. Also consider separate entrances for employees.
Consider specialized work areas.
Cuellar said that many practices add specialized work areas that can be used for dental treatments, physical therapy, recovery benches and client education zones. Other practices are requesting a dictation room so they can use software, such as Talkatoo veterinary dictation software, without noise distractions. They’re also adding note-taking areas for techs, so these staff members aren’t relegated to typing in quick notes on a tablet at the end of a treatment table.
#3 Determining room locations
Assume everything on an architect’s blueprint will translate well in daily use.
Architects can design spaces that seem to fit together well in a blueprint, but don’t work as well given the daily realities of a veterinary practice. These include a lack of square footage between tables, missing spaces for equipment storage, and work area layouts that don’t function as well as they could. “We pay attention to special adjacencies in design,” said Cuellar. “If we can, we keep pack and prep and X-ray areas near surgery and keep sinks in a lab so there are stations to do fecal testing.”
Pay attention to proximity.
Room proximity can make all the difference in a redesign project, and bad choices in this area cause issues that practices have to live with for the long term. Reynolds and Cuellar have both seen that practices sometimes position kennels, bathrooms and other key areas behind treatment tables in an open floor plan or on the far end of the building. “A lot of practice owners don’t make adequate changes to a retrofitted space, and then have to go through the heart of their work area to get from the front of the office to the back. Some people don’t mind, but a lot do. It can be stressful for both pets and staff,” said Reynolds.
The locations of office scales are another area where proximity matters. Many practices keep scales out front in their waiting room because weigh-ins become an exciting start to an appointment. This situation isn’t as convenient for staff who need to take a weight before or after a procedure. For this reason, placing a second scale in the back becomes a smart design choice.
#4 Saving space
Tightly space your treatment tables.
“Five feet between treatment tables has become my minimum recommended clearance,” said Reynolds. He explained leaving plenty of space between treatment tables makes it easier to work. It also provides ergonomic benefits for practitioners so that they don’t get as tired and can manage greater numbers of procedures.
Find other ways to use square footage efficiently.
Everyone likes to save space when they can, but its essential in floor plans where space is tight. Items like fold-up tables, wall-mounted monitors and anesthesia machines, parking spots for unused equipment, and vertical storage for lab equipment and sterilization areas can help. “We’re also seeing more and more use of stackable laundry machines and more compact, effective foaming systems,” said Cuellar. “They’re huge space savers.”
#5 Room designations
Get locked into the idea of a large reception area.
While the classic idea of a veterinary space includes a large waiting area, during the pandemic clinics began to realize that they could function just as well by bringing pets directly into an exam room. Reynolds and Cuellar said they’re now seeing practice owners shifting their design footprint so that square footage that was in waiting areas becomes exam rooms. This change has many benefits, including reducing animal contact and keeping them calm.
Consider multipurpose rooms.
Designing rooms with dual functions is also something to consider. Reynolds and Cuellar said it can be helpful to consider how multiple purposes for a space can work together. In one case, the soothing environment in a comfort room can also serve as a calmer space to hold difficult or complicated client conversations. In another case, a larger staff breakroom can double as a community space where clinics can hold classes or puppy trainings in.
SIDEBAR: Lighting design that helps you go green
When it comes to design elements, there’s a lot of opportunity to go green with lighting use.
Reynolds and Cuellar suggested that if a practice is still using older incandescent or fluorescent lighting, owners may want to consider a change. Energy-efficient lights are not only good for the planet, but they’re also easier on a practice’s electric bill. In addition, they’re also cooler so they keep staff comfortable, and the quality of light makes it easier to see during surgeries and treatments.
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