Make your unsightly exam room unbelievable

Make your unsightly exam room unbelievable

Nov 01, 2005

Do you have an exam room that compromises your dignity? Do clients gawk and children giggle when they step into Room Three? You can remodel this terror of a room without creating chaos. Just ask the team at Great Neck Veterinary Clinic, Virginia Beach, Va., winner of the 2005 Veterinary Economics Ugly Exam Room Contest, sponsored by Veterinary Economics, BDA Architecture, Shor-Line Cabinet Co., and InPro Corp. Great Neck Veterinary Clinic realized it had a problem—and fixed it.

Perhaps it was when Dr. Blair Jones found herself crawling under the exam table to get to other items in the room that she realized it was time for a change. Or it could've been she finally tired of explaining "This was here before I got here."

"It became the running joke," she says. Only under the laughter, staff members weren't smiling.

The problem

"By the time you put two adults, two pets, a doctor, and assistant in the room, there was nowhere to move," says Dr. Gayle McHugh, an associate at Great Neck Veterinary Clinic. "The chair was opposite the door, but by the counter that had everything you needed. If a client sat down, you constantly had to reach over him or her. People were always crawling under the table to get to the other part of the room."

The configuration also made it difficult to work with big patients. "I'd hit my head on the table when I worked with big dogs," says Dr. Jones. "It was embarrassing—and the room just didn't represent the level of care we provide."

The heart of the problem: The clinic's ugly exam room used to be a kitchen. This clearly explains the two refrigerators and the oven fan—all things that made the room overcrowded.

"Often practices outgrow the two or three exam rooms they planned, and overnight or over a weekend they transform a kitchen—or some other room in the practice—to use as an exam room," says Wayne Usiak, AIA, a veterinary architect at BDA Architecture in Albuquerque, N.M. "You end up solving the pressing need for more space, but you're left with other problems because you didn't look at the issue holistically."

The exam room also had some serious cosmetic problems: the air-conditioner unit duct-taped in the window, bright green cabinets, golden-rod linoleum floor, and outdated wallpaper. Here are the steps the Great Neck team took to correct the problems.

Planning and progress

"Before we redid our room, we got together with our team and thought about elements we wanted to include and what we wanted the room to say about the hospital and the care we provide," says Dr. Jones.

A print of a cat by Dr. Jones' mother topped the list for the clinic's new room. "It's nice to incorporate such a personal element," says Dr. McHugh.

Next they chose cabinet and paint colors that coordinated with the print and meshed with their broader goals for the room. "Now each exam room at Great Neck Veterinary Clinic is a light pastel, and the new room is the yellow room," says Dr. McHugh. "We were trying to keep things bright and stimulating for the clients. And we wanted a positive work environment."

One way Great Neck Veterinary Clinic achieved that goal: They got everyone involved. "We let everyone participate in decisions," says Dr. McHugh. "The whole staff looked at samples for the cabinet and floor-tile colors. We all talked about what we wanted to include—a lift table, for example to work with heavy dogs."