Top Five Best Practices for Designing Small Healthcare Spaces

As more healthcare providers seek out leases in retail properties, what design considerations come into play – and is size everything? For part two in our series, we’re taking a closer look at the challenges of meeting the design requirements for first-rate outpatient facilities within the unique surroundings of retail and storefront property.

With the shift away from medical office buildings toward retail, healthcare tenants are looking to minimize higher lease costs by cutting back on space. The oft-repeated corporate adage of doing more with less becomes especially important for these facilities. Healthcare providers also must find ways to assimilate to high-traffic, retail-oriented areas to appeal to and capture needed patient volumes. And when those patients enter the facility, providers need to deliver on the promise of a positive healthcare experience in limited space.

In a consumer-driven marketplace, medical tenants can make savvy and strategic decisions about how they plan and fit out their ambulatory facilities to maximize quality and cost savings. Our top five recommended best practices are:

Maximize staff efficiency

This is just as important in small spaces as it is in large hospitals. Analyze how the staff works. Lay out the space to minimize workflow distances, remembering that personnel costs make up a significant proportion of operational costs. Understand points of movement – where do nurses go to get their supplies? Will patients travel far for diagnostic procedures? How do clerks handle registration and check-out? Being clear on workflow will make the best use of the space.

Utilize circulation space

Circulation space presents a good opportunity within smaller spaces to accommodate additional patient care and work areas. Creating alcoves in hallways to accomplish functions such as registration or queuing can maximize their efficiency and still provide pleasant areas for patients and staff.

Provide flexibility for expansion

Healthcare is always evolving – built-in flexibility and adaptability can address these changes. Allow exam rooms to serve multiple specialties. Strategically locate soft spaces such as office, storage rooms and lounges in areas where they can be repurposed for patient care areas. Plan for how the space could expand next door, but do not locate expensive plumbing-intense spaces such as toilets at ends of hallways that could serve as a connection point.

Take cues from other space types – your local small Starbucks is a start!

Waiting times can be long in medical facilities, and it’s important that the patient and family be given comfortable and practical areas to wait, especially with today’s technology. Small coffee shops and cafés have successfully created such spaces by introducing work tables, lounge seating and designated areas for conversation which can reduce anxiety and can shorten the perceived waiting times.

Introduce soothing and lasting interiors

The ambiance of smaller facilities should help in the healing process, rather than aggravate it. Color palettes from nature have been shown to calm and comfort people. In a small facility, creative use of lighting can also be used to maximize this effect with indirect exposure and natural illumination. Finishes that are easy washable not only provide a cleaner environment, but allow for extra cost savings with a longer lifespan.

By Jose Estevez
Principal, Healthcare Practice
NELSON Worldwide