Practice the design changes that should stay
To say that the past year has brought about major changes in veterinary operations would be a dramatic understatement. Practices have evolved and developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there probably were growing pains, there are some changes that will also help veterinary practices in a more normal future.
Imagine a nearly empty lobby with no frightened cats meowing or barking dogs at your reception. You have learned that people can wait in their cars or outside until you and the exam rooms are ready. Consider adapting the restaurant’s approach to texting customers when their table is ready and texting customers when their exam room is open. Creating more opportunities to keep your lobby calm and reduce stress will help improve interactions with your staff and customers. Less crowded lobbies also allow for greater separation of species. Whether you are renovating or expanding your practice, look for ways to include examination rooms with exterior entrances so clients and patients can enter and exit directly from the parking lot or covered outdoor waiting areas.
Another way to calm your lobbyists and improve your customer experience is to expand curbside services. Consider minimizing the reasons people leave their cars, and then consider reducing the reasons for entering the lobby. Can you meet people at their vehicles for drugstore pickup? It may be possible to install a sliding window such as drive-thru restaurants or human pharmacies in your establishment, which would make transfers even easier. Surgery depots don’t always need to involve customers bringing their pets to the front door; it might work better if they meet you at the back of the building if it’s closer to pre-op and post-op. Basic oral medications could be administered to patients outside. No one likes to haul feces through halls, so watch the outdoor transfers for fecal samples. Implementing more curbside or drive-thru services will allow you to keep your lobby and public spaces peaceful and less stressful for the animals that spend time there.
The fields of human and animal medicine have developed their telemedicine services over the past year. While many veterinary services are best provided in person with the animal appearing in front of your team, there are a few areas that can remain virtual, such as:
- mobility issues
- skin diseases
- and minor injury
The integration of telemedicine offers the possibility of sharing and potentially reducing the size of offices and mapping spaces. While this isn’t always popular, it can be a great strategy if you quickly go over your space. In addition, virtual consultations can be a good first stopover when it comes to fearful or overstimulated animals, especially if they don’t like car rides.
It seems that the whole world has recently learned to wash their hands well. Let’s continue hand washing. Do not give up your sinks so that you can collectively continue to have better hygiene and minimize fomite transmission. If you plan to replace plumbing fixtures, go contactless as much as possible to avoid opening and closing faucets with dirty hands. Soap and paper towel dispensers are also more hygienic when they are touchless. Consider upgrading doors like foot-operated toilet doors, so people don’t have to touch dirty handles right after washing their hands. You can also install wireless push buttons and automatic door openers on doors at key locations in your facility.
Good air flow
The design of veterinary hospitals has focused on air quality in spaces occupied by animals, ensuring that medical spaces are properly pressurized and odors in animal areas are properly managed. Over the past year, the world has also learned how important good air circulation can be in human spaces as well. Indoor-outdoor spaces can be a great asset in many areas. Examination rooms connected to the outdoors can also be more psychologically comfortable for your staff and clients, especially if you open the windows and bring in fresh air.
Try not to neglect your staff spaces either. Connecting the rest rooms to the outdoors is beneficial for many reasons. Humans thrive in spaces with natural light, so even if your treatment areas are indoors and lack windows, providing rest rooms with outdoor access will benefit your team. It’s even better if you can open the windows in your sleeping area or install sliding doors or a garage door.
Over the past year, everyone has faced incredible challenges and adapted in countless ways. While there are a lot of things we would all like to put behind us, it is important to reflect on the changes that have improved operations and to preserve the innovations that have worked well so that you can continue to grow your veterinary practice.
Sarah is a director at Animal Arts Design Studios, an architectural firm dedicated to the design of spaces for the care of animals. During her years with the company, she worked on dozens of projects.