Article Date: 9/1/2004

office design
Office Design for the Optometric Eye
Is it time for you to update your office? Where do you start? Get ideas that work from experts and colleagues.
BY KAREN RODEMICH, Managing Editor

You know when it's time to update your office. Your rooms look worn and old, or maybe a patient or two have commented on the 70's color scheme.

Or maybe you've outgrown your current office space. Many optometrists move, rebuild or redesign their existing offices because they need more room.

Of course, the most compelling reason behind an office makeover is the health of your patients and your practice. Elvin W. Fenton, O.D., says that his practice has grown "20% to 25% every month" since he and his O.D. brother, Olin, opened the doors to their new Texarkana, Texas, facility in November 2003. The brothers see approximately 450 patients each month. In practice since 1996, Dr. Elvin Fenton outgrew his first practice, which measured 3,200 square feet.

Philip Grimes, O.D., of Mustang, Okla., is well versed in the benefits of new office designs. Seeking more room or a better layout, he's changed offices five times since 1973. "I've tried to improve the basic design each time," he says. "The most important element in the design is function. I try to achieve good patient flow. I have felt more comfortable with each new design and I feel that the change energizes the staff and patients like the new surroundings."

For some, redesign is a "no lose" proposition. Says consultant Gary Gerber, O.D., "I have never had a client rebuild/redesign her office and not make more money." (See "Consultants Corner".)

Now let's get to the nuts, bolts and furnishings of recently redesigned/rebuilt offices.

Dream big

Sally M. Fife, O.D., of Henderson, Ky., opened her first office in 1986. It was only 1,200 square feet. Her newly expanded office takes up 2,700 square feet. The new office, which cost her close to $600,000, boasts wider halls for wheelchair accessibility as well as an improved wheelchair ramp. Aside from that, she adds that the new office has "more light, leveled floors, six exam rooms instead of two and two entrances (one to the optical and one to the waiting room)."

Dr. Fenton says his new office is a lot more open than his last location and the optical is viewable by more people, which deters theft. It also includes a full service lab where patients can watch glasses being made. Dr. Fenton now also has a more up-to-date lab than his old office and he added three more exam rooms and hired four more employees. He spent roughly $1.5 million to buy the plot of land, and design and build the office.

Drs. Fife and Fenton took an unusual approach to office design. For more unusual ideas, check out "Extraordinary Touches". The following section; however, represents more typical rebuilding/ redesigning scenarios.

 

Dr. Sally Fife's office, before the remodel.  Dr. Fife's office today. www.drsallyfife.com
Patients can relax with a complimentary beverage at the bistro area before they see Dr. Fife. A homey waiting area welcomes patients to Dr. Fife's office.
Personal touches souch as this set patients at ease in Dr. Fife's office. Dr. Fife in her optical area.

Other redesigns

J. Larry Charles, O.D., of Edmond, Okla., spent roughly $600,000 to go from 2,400 square feet to 3,800 square feet (plus the 2,800 square feet that he leases to a primary care doctor). He originally leased space in a strip shopping center and decided to buy his current property for the security of being able to control or know what was going on around and next to him. He literally moved across the street, where he now has four exam rooms instead of two, a larger reception area, an office for the office manager and/or another O.D., a bigger dispensary and three bathrooms (one for patients, one for staff and one for him).

Interestingly, Dr. Charles's wife (also an optometrist) custom designed the frame display. They bought rods from a company to hang spectacle frames on to save money and also because they liked to way it looks.

Extraordinary Touches

  • Elvin W. Fenton, O.D. has a two-story office. He keeps a second optical (for storing extra frames) and a conference room on the second floor.
  • Sally M. Fife, O.D. designed her office with french country in mind. Near the patient information counter is a bistro area, where patients can help themselves to complimentary beverages.
  • Rather than using commercial carpeting in his new office, J. Larry Charles, O.D., had residential carpet with padding installed. He made that decision when he thought about the kids that typically play around on the floors in the kids area of his waiting room. And it's better than walking on concrete.

According to Dr. Charles, his practice has grown quite a bit every year since he opened it. He says, "We're way ahead of last year's numbers this year."

Dr. Grimes and his wife also had a hand in the design of his current office. It took him less than one year to buy the property, design the building and then have it constructed. All total, he spent approximately $330,000 on the endeavor. "We have two exam rooms with the ability to expand to four," he states.

His old office only had two without any flexibility. He says he achieved functionality by looking at what procedures they did for each patient and then designing the flow so the patient could move to each area in succession. "There's probably no perfect solution, but we're happy with our present layout," he adds.

As mentioned earlier, many O.D.s rebuild or redesign because they need more room. So is the story for John L. Schachet, O.D., of Englewood, Colo., who needed extra space for an expanded business office, a lab, an optical and two new exam rooms. He expanded his existing office into the adjacent suite and took another 1,000 square feet of space. "I hired a design consultant/architect to help me with the plans and to see the project to completion," he says. (For a list of some of the redesigning/rebuilding resources available, turn to "Help is Just a Phone Call -- or Web Site -- Away".) He also made some changes to the existing space. (This is the second office he's rebuilt and redesigned.)

Alan Glazier, O.D., rebuilt his Rockville, Md. office five years ago and will be remodeling in the next two to three months. He's planning to expand into the space next door and guesses he'll shut down one exam room at a time while the builders connect the two offices. "We'll first build out the other office before breaking through the wall, so we may have to shut down for two days maximum," he explains. Dr. Glazier expects this approach to save a significant amount of downtime and money.

He adds that, "A remodel/redesign generates profits simply through the upgrade -- an improvement in appearance can lead to higher gross sales and improve your practice stature in the eyes of your patients, which results in increased word-of-mouth referrals."

Dr. Glazier has realized double-digit growth annually and consistently since he rebuilt his current office. He figured that to afford the loan that he took out to make the move, he had to realize a 20% increase in growth in the first year. He's actually surpassed that by 5%.

 

 Outside of Charles Vision Center in Edmond, Okla.
Dr. J. Larry Charles's newly designed optical area. Dr. Charles's exam rooms are clean, fresh and up-to-date looking.
The contact lens room at Charles Vision Center is clean and inviting. The waiting room at Charles Vision Center.
Carpeting helps section off the optical area, which is done in neutral tones. The lighting and colors make the reception area warm and inviting at Dr. Charles's office.

 

Getting a plan in mind

When an Eye Designs consultant sits down with an optometrist to determine the size of an office, he'll first figure out the O.D.'s needs and perform a square-foot analysis. OM interviewed Richard Winig, president of Eye Designs, to get some tips on redesigning and rebuilding. Here's the advice he offers:


This reception area was designed directly adjacent to the optical in an office created by Eye Designs of Collegeville, Pa. and Los Angeles, Calif.

Small office space (no less than 1,000 sq. ft. and no more than 2,000 sq. ft. for one O.D.). Says Mr. Winig, "For small office space, you have to minimize flow because you don't want to waste space." He also cautions practitioners to be realistic when signing a lease because it's easy to outgrow a small office quickly.

Large office space (4,000 sq. ft to 6,000 sq. ft. for 3+ O.D.s). According to Mr. Winig, with a larger office space, you have to minimize and control flow. "Make sure people aren't walking all around or walking too far." He also stresses the importance of good supervision and communication.

Tasks you can tackle yourself. Obviously it's a good idea to at least first get a consultation from a design company before you actually do anything, but Mr. Winig says you can do a few things on your own, such as choosing carpets and interior design schemes. "Most design companies offer a free design service, so my advice is to get that free consultation and have them work out a plan for you." As he says, you're investing thousands of dollars that affect your income. "Work with a professional and you get professional results."

Rural vs. urban. According to Mr. Winig, rural areas have less restrictions when it comes to building/designing an office. Plus, he says, it's usually much more affordable so you can plan for more space up front.

"With urban areas," he adds, "you're usually dealing with tight spaces and parking is a concern." The price per square foot is usually higher. He says that many urban offices arise out of existing structures. Rural offices are often newer construction.

"The key is to design your practice for your patient base's tastes and styles, not for your own," Mr. Winig advises.

 

Eye Designs designed the three practitioners' offices above.

But what about down time?

Afraid you'll lose money during down time? Not to worry. The O.D.s we interviewed found a way around this dilemma.

Quick Poll

How often do you plan to redesign/ rebuild your office:

  • less than every five years
  • five to 10 years
  • 11 years or more

Now you know the question, go to www.optometric.com and answer it. OM will reveal the results in an upcoming issue's news section.

As Dr. Fenton was building his new office, he continued to see patients in his old space. When they were ready, they "moved on a Sunday and saw patients on Monday."

Similarly, Dr. Charles was only down for about two days because he also continued practicing at the location he was leaving. The only negative at that time was a phone dilemma: "My old phone number was disconnected at the old location but the new number wasn't hooked up yet," he explains.

Dr. Fife had an interesting approach to dealing with her office rebuild/redesign. How did she survive the transition? Easy: She and her staff worked in the existing structure while workers built the new portion. Dr. Fife and her staff then moved to the new section and the construction workers moved to the old section to finish up. She says that the practice was only down for about three or four days. Dr. Fife estimates that the entire redesign/rebuild cost her about $600,000 (in a town with a population of roughly 28,000).

And last but not least, after all the planning is said and done, how do you get your patients and staff to go along with the idea of your office becoming a work in progress? Here's how your colleagues managed this particular feat:

Getting everybody on board

Dr. Charles says that his rebuilt/redesigned office has been well received. "Every patient has commented that it's very nice," he adds. "They appreciate it." However, he did mention that some patients alluded to him having to charge more because he has a fancy new building. "There's a little bit of that perception," he admits.

According to Dr. Glazier, getting staff to accept the change "has a lot to do with how much of a cheerleader you are as owner and boss." He pumped his staff up for the move and gave them significant roles in the process. He explains, "I sought their opinions on build-out issues. I let them know that I counted on them for the move and that they were crucial in ensuring that the transitions afterward were smooth." Dr. Glazier also told his staff that office growth is required for career development and that he would strive to ensure that the practice continued to grow so that the earning potential and job satisfaction would grow.

Dr. Grimes got input from his staff for the design of his new office. "We also posted signs and put ads in the local paper telling patients about the move. People have been positive about the new location," he comments. Interestingly, he also feels as though the number of word-of-mouth referrals have increased since opening the new office.

Dr. Schachet's change also went over well. He says, "Our patients love our new office now and in fact, when they walk in, they aren't sure that they're in the correct place until they get their bearings. Our staff equally loved the change, as there's much more room and each one of them now has a work station."

Change is good

We've all heard the saying, and there must be some truth to it, because we keep using it. How can you go wrong when your goal is to change for the better?

 

Consultants Corner

See what these consultants have to say about making physical changes to an optometric office.

Gary Gerber, O.D., president of The Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable, says that in his experience, doctors seem to know when it's time to redesign. But the problem, he points out, is that "they wait until it's painfully obvious (i.e., the physical plant looks old, worn and tired)." He says that profiting from a rebuild/redesign is one of the absolutes of practice building. "I have never had a client rebuild/redesign her office and not make more money," he proclaims. "Of course," he adds, "it has to be done the right way."

Learn more about Dr. Gerber's services at www.powerpractice.com.

Richard S. Kattouf, O.D., D.O.S., president and founder of two management and consulting companies, asserts that redesigning an office can increase patient flow and volume. "In the optical it can increase multiple sales and unit sales by the proper display of product and merchandising. This will all increase income and raise the image of the practice."

With regard to staff, Dr. Kattouf says to keep them informed as you refine your plans. He also recommends keeping your patients informed and scheduling them around the actual construction. "They usually appreciate the doctor re-investing in the office that serves them," he remarks.

E-mail him at advancedeyecare@hotmail.com.

Jerry Hayes, O.D., founder of knowyourstaff.com and Hayes Consulting, consults doctors on justifying the cost of an office redesign. "Depending on the age, location, condition and appearance of a doctor's current office," says Dr. Hayes, "a new office can be a big attraction or PR boost." He recommends a doctor consider the following general factors when contemplating redesigning an office: age, location and condition/appearance of current office; practice revenue; rent/revenue ratio; number of exam rooms; number of doctors in the practice; and the production for each square foot.

E-mail him at jhayes@hayesconsulting.com.

THE GENERAL CONSENSUS: All three of our consulting experts agree: Unless you have building experience, hire a professional. As Dr. Kattouf points out, "Doctors usually use a floor plan for 20 years or more -- do it correctly and professionally."

Dr. Gerber adds that for small sections (such as waiting rooms), a doctor can redesign that on his/her own.

 

Tips from the Trenches

Who better to give advice than someone who has already been there and done that -- successfully?

Optometric Management Tip of the Week Editor Neil B. Gailmard, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., started in a 750-square-foot office in a medical complex, progressed to a second-story professional building in a shopping area and currently practices in a 10,000-square-foot freestanding building. Here are some of his tips for you to consider regarding remodeling, expanding or building your office:

  • Make sure your reception/waiting room is large enough for families and drivers who accompany patients, patients waiting for pupil dilation (unless you have elsewhere to put them) and future growth. Consider an adjacent, but private patient washroom, a coffee counter with sink, a water cooler and a cable TV in this room. You may even want patients to have a view of the optical.
  • Your business office should interface with the reception/waiting room. Consider a private administrative area next to the business office for the office manager's office and additional desks for an insurance clerk and general administration. This is also a good location for a photocopier and mailing center.
  • Plan for more pre-test and special procedure rooms than you think. I like to limit the number of tests that you can perform in the pre-test room to about three or four. Include a sink for contact lens handling. You may also want to consider additional small, single-use rooms for
    visual fields and never fiber analysis, which take a little longer than other procedures and are best done without distraction.
  • Make exam rooms comfortable and big enough to fit a couple of side chairs for family members. Plan for at least two exam rooms for each doctor.
  • Consider giving your optical dispensing area a separate entrance and parking area, but not too separate. (I operate our optical under our practice name.)

The information provided here has been adapted from its original format, which appeared in the Tip of the Week No. 129. You can read Dr. Gailmard's unabbreviated tip list by signing up for Optometric Management's Tip of the Week at www.optometricmanagement.com.

 

 

Help is Just a Phone Call -- or Web Site -- Away

Once you've decided to rebuild or redesign, you'll probably want some expert help. Here are some of the resources available:

Ennco
www.ennco.com
(800) 833-6626

Designs, builds and installs optical environments (from just a few displays to an entire space) for optometrists, ophthalmologists, opticians and sunwear retailers.

Eye Designs, LLC
www.eyedesigns.com
(800) 346-8890

Designs, manufactures, installs and accessorizes your office to fit your style and budget.

Fashion Optical Displays
www.fashionoptical.com
(800) 824-4106

Offers a full range of products and services, from providing single frame displays to completely designing and outfitting a dispensary.

Oadbe Associates Ltd.
www.oadbe.com
(859) 879-3407

Offers consultation services to enhance ophthalmic office design projects. Also designs and offer pre-design planning for offices. Its Web site includes a section on how to select a designer and an outline on planning an office and getting started.

 



Optometric Management, Issue: September 2004