Make veterinary visits a walk in the park for pets

Make veterinary visits a walk in the park for pets

Ahhh! The sweet smell of the great—indoors?! The trees and park details in this clinic seem so real, you almost forget you’re inside.
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May 01, 2016

Upgrade! This conversion hospital moved on up to a larger space within the same strip mall. "The anchor business is an upscale grocery store that attracts the type of demographic we look for," says John Talmadge, DVM. Custom dog-bone and paw-print wrought iron fencing sets the scene outside the clinic and this detail can be spotted inside the hospital as well. The strip mall provides large potted flowers (1), which are maintained throughout spring and summer. A two-door entrance system (2) reduces air temperature changes and helps prevent pet escapes. (Photo courtesy of Erin Grote)

When pets walk into Bigger Road Veterinary Center they see blue skies, large oak trees and small cottages. Sure, the skies are painted, the trees are building columns and the cottages are exam rooms, but these design disguises are a welcome change of scenery for clients and their four-legged family members. The Bigger Road team dedicated the design of their 9,105-square-foot-conversion clinic in Springboro, Ohio, to creating a Fear Free practice. We’d say they succeeded, considering they earned a Merit Award in the 2016 Hospital Design Competition. And many clients think the trees are real.

Home away from home: Real building materials (wood shingles, brick, stone, etc.) were used to create these eight elevated cottage fronts—err, exam rooms, complete with address numbers and names (1), chosen by clients. The doors include peepholes, mailboxes (secret chart holders) and red flags to signal the status of the appointment (2). The serpentine, river rock wall divides the exam rooms from ancillary services to the left (3) and street lamps add soft lighting (4) to the scene. Support beams were turned into maple trees thanks to a talented recreation artist in St. Louis, bringing the entire theme to life (5). "The trees really do look real. We have had several clients ask us how we keep them alive," Talmadge says. "It makes you feel like you're outdoors." (Photo courtesy of Erin Grote)

“We’ve had several clients ask us how we keep the trees alive in the winter,” says John Talmadge, DVM, one of four co-owners of Bigger Road.

So, here's how to make like a tree and leave outdated designs in the dust. Take home these takeaways, courtesy of the Bigger Road, and design your own more pleasant, lower-stress clinic:

What do clients want? Ask them!

Rather than guessing what pet owners wanted to see in their second clinic, the Bigger Road team went straight to the source. They conducted a focus group with clients and asked:

> What are we doing well?
> How can we improve?
> What services would you like us to add?                                

Do it better: Bigger Road is working towards a new pharmacy initiative to keep minimal product on shelves and offer much more online in the clinic store. This way, the clinic saves room and staffing costs, and clients save money. For the drugs they do keep in stock, there are cabinets for narcotics, a small refrigerator for vaccines and an electronic pill counter to help with inventory management. The pharmacy is very accessible, located in a hallway accessible three different ways. (Photo courtesy of Erin Grote)

Clients were honest about wants and needs, and Bigger Road took their comments to heart.

“Our online pharmacy and wellness plans came directly out of this feedback,” the owners said in their Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition application. “Our clients also wanted an environment that truly helped them celebrate the relationship with their pets.”

When it comes to design, the sky’s the limit

In a era when dogs and cats are more like family members than pets, the Bigger Road team knew they needed to create an atmosphere to match that shift.

“The goal was to reinterpret the veterinary clinic as an ‘indoor walk in the park’ and create a familiar, non-threatening environment for pets and owners while maintaining a functional and efficient plan for the practice,” says Dana Shoup, AIA, of Bon Builders in Vandalia, Ohio, the primary architect on the project.

Corridors were transformed into “outdoor paths,” clinic walls turned to stone, and street lamps were brought indoors. Murals of outdoor scenery throughout the clinic reinforce the theme, and mailboxes outside each “cottage” serve as a secret exam room availability system.

Calm down: How do you design a low-stress exam? Take notes from Bigger Road. Two of the six traditional exam rooms are cat-only, complete with cat trees in the corners, and all rooms are stocked with toys and treats. Species-specific pheromones are used in the exam rooms as well, while fresh water is available for pets in a bowl on a placemat in every room. Two rooms have lift tables and the rest have drop-down tables, but doctors often perform exams on the floor or on pet owners' laps. "We let patients decide where they're most comfortable," they say. The team also keeps pets in the exam room for most procedures, only occasionally asking clients to leave the room (although they can still look through the peephole!) (Photo courtesy of Erin Grote)

“The best compliments we receive come from pet owners who say pets seem more relaxed in the new environment,” Shoup says.

Expand your horizon

Another huge takeaway from the focus group was learning more about pet owners’ biggest challenges when it comes to veterinary care.

“The most limiting resource for most of our clients isn’t money, it’s time,” the Bigger Road team said. “They said they wanted us to be successful and looked to us to provide the services we were previously referring to other local businesses.”

For all your comfy needs: This specialty suite is primarily used for behavior consultations, although the team can also use it for euthanasias, consultations and patient releases. It's the only exam room with two doors for a quick entrance or exit mid-appointment. A viewing window, covered by blinds, makes observations easier for the team. And there's no exam table here! "We do most of our exams on the floor or on the owner's lap," the team said in their competition entry. "We keep a small tray of supplies under the couch and can perform blood draws and catheter placements easily." (Photo courtesy of Erin Grote)

This is why the clinic expanded services to include:

> Behavior and training
> Day care services
> Physical rehab/underwater treadmill
> Integrative medicine
> Acupuncture
> Herbal medicine
> Cold laser therapy

After Bigger Road expanded its services and designed a low-stress experience, veterinary care is now a walk in the park for pets.

Want to see more photos of this hospital? Click here for a full photo tour.

Ashley Griffin is a freelance writer based in Kansas City and a former content specialist for dvm360.