While healthcare conference agendas and articles have focused upon improvements in acute and inpatient care, environments for outpatient and primary care have remained relatively unchanged in recent decades. However, more progressive providers are seeking new and innovative ways to improve the patient experience, particularly as insurance reimbursement has become predicated on the same.
The examination room – the key functional space of most outpatient encounters between patient and medical professionals – has evolved remarkably little in the past half-century. All the while, the balance of healthcare-associated technologies, treatment methods, and building systems have progressed at an accelerating pace.
These confined rooms resemble oversized closets with antiseptic material finishes, unfriendly to both patient and provider. Usually dressed with a modest run of plastic or metal cabinetry, a small sink, unflattering lighting, and a few sterile instruments, these spaces are barely suitable for a single patient and physician, much less do they accommodate additional family members or provide adequate space for computer terminals or face-to-face conversation. If patient experience is valued, then these critical areas must change to better address current needs and create more efficient, comfortable and engaging places for healing.
Old Exam Room
At Virtua Health, a leading regional institution with three major hospitals and dozens of outpatient facilities in southcentral New Jersey, TONO Group partnered with senior clinical leadership to reimagine the exam room. The outcome generated a new prototype for all future primary care applications. By employing parametric modeling software and visualization tools, the clinical and design team successfully improved patient and provider outcomes.
Several key innovations enable healthcare providers to better engage with patients and family members within a space specifically configured to engender conversation, privacy and comfort. Although a physical examination may be part of the appointment, the space purposely functions more broadly as a consultation room, diagnostic examination room, treatment space, and check-out office. The patient and providers are able to administer all aspects of the experience within a single room, thereby reducing spatial redundancies and expediting the outpatient process.
Measuring approximately 120 square feet, the patient experience space offers a relaxed atmosphere with all the necessary tools: a compact, wall-mounted instrument panel, wood cabinets, quartz countertop, and hand sink. Although a motorized, multi-functional examination table is present, it may not be required for the visit, and other seating options are provided for patient and family. Moreover, each space features a conversation table where doctor and patient sit across from one another and at a shared computer terminal available for electronic records, diagnostic image analysis, and video viewing. The terminal also serves as an in-room check-out station.
Improved Virtua Exam Room