Your EHR screen isn’t the only thing that needs to be regularly refreshed—your practice’s décor does, too. The aesthetics of your space affect everything from how your patients feel to how much money they spend (or don’t spend). Despite that, most providers don’t refresh the look and feel of their practices for decades at a time, according to Jay Binkowitz, a presenter at 2017’s Vision Expo West conference in Las Vegas.
Your practice’s appearance “needs to reflect your personality, needs to reflect your culture, and needs to be updated,” he emphasizes. And if you think that always takes a big budget, that’s just not true. Even simple, inexpensive changes can make a positive impact on patients. Tackle one at a time, and watch your practice transform from outdated, to updated.
“My favorite thing to do when I walk into an office is clean it out,” says Binkowitz. His rationale? Clutter is actually eating up money because it’s eating up space you need. Plus, it just looks bad. His rule of thumb? If you haven’t looked at it, read it, touched it, or needed it in the past twelve months, it’s gone. To be fair, a cluttered practice probably isn’t your entire fault. “You have reps just dropping stuff off, [and] you don’t even know it’s there,” Binkowitz laments. “You don’t need that stuff. You need some of the information it has, but it doesn’t need to be in a box out on the counter.” He adds.
Extend a Warm Welcome
“We actually don’t need a reception counter, we need welcome centers,” notes Binkowitz. “It’s a place where you’re [going to] greet someone and make sure their journey is started properly.” In practices that get this concept right, patients don’t walk in and see a front desk right away; they see a beverage center or a coffee counter. The “welcome” comes first, and the “check-in” comes after.
When it comes to waiting rooms, Binkowitz is ready to eliminate that concept altogether. “It’s not a waiting room, it’s a lounge area,” he says. In a waiting room you wait, but a lounge is more social. Patients can relax. He recommends that staff think about the hominess of their living rooms, and the best decisions will follow.
To be fair, this concept was up for debate among conference attendees. One attendee said lounge area “sounds like a place one lays around” while another preferred the term “reception area.” But semantics aside, the point is clear. If patients have to wait in your waiting room—which, let’s be honest, they sometimes do—you want them to do it as comfortably as possible.
Take a Seat
A variety of furniture is a great way to create visual interest in your practice. In the optical, Binkowitz likes to include bar height tables, with or without seats. Why? “When you dispense and measure eyeglasses you should never do it sitting down,” he says. People are not in the right posture and we’re not getting the best measurements sitting down, he explains. And when you think about seating, don’t forget your senior patients. It’s often easier for senior patients to arise from a higher chair than it is from a lower one.
If new furniture is starting to sound like more than you bargained for, don’t fret. “There are a lot of inexpensive ways to provide those experiences,” Binkowitz assures. You can get a lot of bang for your buck at places like Ikea, Homegoods, and even Walmart.
What do you have on the walls in your practice? Hint: it should be art. One unique idea? Justin Bazan, OD, of Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, New York, incorporates a gallery-like feel into his practice. His walls feature art installations from a rotating cast of local artists. It does double duty: community-based artists are given a boost, and patients like to stop in and see what’s new—even if they don’t have an appointment.
The exact variety of art you opt for depends on the feel of your practice and the image you want to convey. But whatever you do, don’t feature images of eye conditions on your walls (yes, even in the exam rooms). “They know you’re a doctor, that’s why they’re there,” quips Binkowitz.
If you only do one thing next year…
Paint something, advises Binkowitz. Even if it’s something small, like an accent wall, a molding, or a soffit, patients notice. It looks new and it “triggers the thought process that we’re doing something new all the time,” he explains.
When choosing a new color, think about what the particular space is used for—it’s important to get the right colors in the right places. For example bright colors can agitate and cause anxiety in exam rooms, but could energize your optical. And aim to use low or no-VOC paint. In homes, the smell of fresh paint can be a boon to buyers. But in a medical practice, that’s not necessarily the case. Paint odors could negatively affect patients and staff with sensitivities.
A Retail Reboot
Most optometric practices earn a large chunk of their revenue from product sales (eyewear, contact lenses, and accessories). And as reimbursement falls, that chunk needs to grow. Non-insurance based revenue is a way to safeguard your practice against healthcare market volatility. To grow that out-of-pocket revenue, look to the retail world and make your practice a place where people want to spend money.
“I want your interior to look as retail as possible,” says Travis Reed, who specializes in visual merchandising and also presented at Vision Expo West. It should be “all things fashion, all things retail.” When patients feel more like they’re buying a fashion accessory versus a corrective eyewear product, they give themselves permission to buy more, Reed adds.
Whether it’s window displays, floor displays, or furniture, Reed advises providers to arrange elements to move from low at the front, to higher up at the back. And think about where you’re displaying your newest merchandise. Your first instinct may be to display brand new frames at the front of your optical, but think about moving new items to the back, Reed advises. That way, patients walk through the entire optical to see the new stuff, and they stop to look at everything else on the way.