Practice Design is a Team Effort

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It’s best for the veterinary practice owner, distributor, and manufacturer to work in harmony. 

You’ve been calling on the account for years, and during that time, you’ve noticed the flooring getting a little shabbier; the wall paneling warped; the chairs in the waiting room less inviting. The break room is old and so are the storage cabinets; the sterilization and packaging area is too small; and the pharmacy is … hard to find.

To you, it seems clear the space isn’t suitable for staff, clients or patients, and you’re concerned about its negative impact on clients. But how do you suggest to your customer that it might be time to think about a remodel, addition, move or new build? You do it tactfully. It’s something consultants refer to as telling the client their baby is ugly.


And it’s one of the first steps distributors and equipment manufacturers can take to help their customers up their game.

“The best way to start this conversation is by developing a relationship with the owner and staff based on trust and the recognition of you as part of the clinic team,” said Dave Kingston, Covetrus account manager for eastern Pennsylvania and central New Jersey. Building those types of relationships demands time and effort – in most cases, several years, he said. In the absence of longevity, the rep’s best bet is to listen and ask thoughtful questions about the things that the owner and staff would like to improve or change about their clinic.

It is not the rep’s place to tell the owner they need to renovate, expand or move, he said. Rather, they have to make their own decision based on factors such as the competition, personal pride and legacy, the shortcomings of their facility’s capacity, or improving the value of the business for sale. “My role is to help them become comfortable with that reality themselves,” said Kingston. “Once that recognition occurs, my role changes to helping them make a plan to achieve their wishes and generously sharing my focus, energy and experience to help them along the way.”

Time for a change

“With more companion animals than ever, and the humanization of pets, clients are seeking more services for their companion animal,” said Scott Manning, senior manager, design and construction, Midmark Animal Health. “People are willing to expend more resources to maximize the comfort and longevity of their pets, which means a facility must be designed to meet capacity and service demands. At the same time, the veterinarian must think about whether the facility design will have longer-term appeal. This is especially valuable for those who are exploring retirement, consolidation or a corporate sale.”

A well-designed facility is attractive to both staff and customers, and helps retain both, said Manning. “As demand for services continues to grow, specialty care is rapidly expanding.” Animal dentistry, for example, is a “must” to stay competitive in the marketplace. “No longer is it limited to a cursory tooth check and cleaning, but it includes comprehensive oral examinations, extractions and dental surgeries that mimic human dentistry.”

There’s another reason a veterinary practice owner might be considering a major project, he said. “Many practice owners and staff are seeking guidance on ways to be more efficient in day-to-day care delivery, and to enhance capacity within their space.” Dealing with pandemics is also on their radar.

“COVID has certainly impacted veterinary care delivery, forcing practices to adapt operations to continue to serve their clients and patients,” said Manning. The need to facilitate social distancing, healthy airflow, potential curbside service or exterior exam room access, and telemedicine are all important factors to consider in a project. “The overall focus should be on flexibility for the future. Will the facility and team be agile enough to work through the next disruption to business? Adding modular and mobile components to a hospital allows the equipment to be repurposed or reconfigured with minimal effort.”

Planning

Your customers might not know how to select a designer, engineer or builder. Distributors and their manufacturer partners can help.

“Working with designers or contractors who are unfamiliar with the veterinary space or care team workflow will likely require significant effort to educate them on how a care team operates,” said Manning. “Investing in a qualified architect or general contractor will pay dividends in the long run.” Veterinary-specific engineers, architects, design-build-firms, and general contractors can impact the success of a project. “They have a working knowledge of care delivery and workflow that will help the practice design a space that supports patient flow and care efficiency. Midmark is a clinical design company, and our team can recommend several industry experts to engage on your project,” he added.

Naturally, hospital owners wonder – or panic – about the cost of a major redesign, addition, build or move. But again, distributor reps and manufacturers can help them approach such a project with open eyes. “Engaging with a veterinary-specific architect will certainly pay off for customers,” said Manning. “Even an initial 30- to 60-minute meeting with one of these experts can deliver
a solid project estimate.”

“This is the ideal place to be involved!” said Kingston. “I feel that one of my many roles as their distributor and part of their team is to help them break this process into manageable projects. I encourage them to connect with peers (introducing them if necessary) who recently went through the process, offer them contact info for contractors and architects in their area that I have worked with, and connect them with my area Midmark rep and help them assemble an equipment formulary with pricing so they can calculate their equipment expense. At Covetrus, we are also lucky to have a financial services team to help discuss loan and lease options, terms and potential payments.”

Balancing act

At some point, practice owners contemplating a major renovation or addition must decide: Do we continue operating during the process, or do we close down until it is finished?

It’s a difficult decision, said Manning. “If they take a phased approach and close some areas of the practice for renovation, they must consider whether they can adequately continue practicing within this smaller footprint. If patient capacity is significantly reduced, it may not be cost-effective. If they choose this route, working closely with their architect will allow them to create a phased project schedule that accommodates keeping the practice partially open. However, the practice owner and staff must understand the stress of working in an ongoing construction zone.

“Further, rarely are customers satisfied with renovating the same size space without some added real estate. It may be an ideal time to consider new construction that delivers a larger space and buffers the patients from the project until opening day.”

Said Kingston, maintaining the business of the clinic and customer comfort requires significant forethought. He identified some best practices which he has witnessed, including:

  • Identify customer and staff-only areas for the contractor.
  • Select a contractor that will work during the days or hours that the clinic is traditionally closed.
  • Select a contractor that will commit to maintaining a project calendar that is updated regularly and available
    to the practice leadership team.
  • Share construction-related information at daily employee shift meetings/rounds.
  • Consider closing an extra day or opening on a day that the contractor cannot work.
  • In the case of an expansion, if possible, postpone connecting the new space until it is ready for
    day-to-day operations.
  • Use the construction story to generate energy on social media vehicles.
  • Implement a daily morning meeting with construction supervisor and practice manager or practice owner.
  • Set up weekly meetings with contractor, practice leadership and distributor rep.
  • Make sure customer contact teammates have a clear, consistent story to share with the clients.

The distributor/manufacturer team

Major projects can be as exhausting as they are exhilarating, and they demand teamwork among distributor, equipment manufacturer(s) and client.

The distributor/equipment manufacturer relationship needs to be based on trust, customer focus and lavish communication, said Kingston.

  • Before the project begins: Communicate with each other and develop a relationship and partnership where we both understand each other’s products, services, capabilities and personal skills, he said. Share information about new opportunities as soon as you learn about them, even if they are years away.
  • During the project: Communicate at least weekly to share information regarding construction issues and needs, delays or improvements in the construction schedule, and production and shipping concerns. If possible, do site walk-throughs together to confirm layout, blocking, plumbing, electric and other variables. Generate a working relationship with the site supervisor and contractor.
  • After the project is completed: Communicate immediately regarding any issues that may arise in the daily use of the manufacturer’s product – both warranty and non-warranty, along with good feedback that can be used for future projects. New leads are often discovered at this time as the peers and colleagues of the owner visit to see the completed project or see it on social media. Celebrate both of your successes!

 

Said Manning, the three most important characteristics of a partnership between Midmark and the distributor come down to the following:

  • Trust: The foundation for any partnership, each must trust that the other is working tirelessly to support the customer’s needs.
  • Communication: Open dialogue between Midmark and the distributor ensures that specifications – and what the customer wants – are accurately captured and delivered. Communication is also a cornerstone to successful outcomes. From start to finish, sharing information, managing expectations, and updating all stakeholders is essential.
  • Timing: Successful outcomes are achieved when earnest conversations between the customer, manufacturer and distributor occur early in the process. Timing is a critical element because beginning early – before decisions are made – are costly to change later in the project.

 

Editor’s note: For additional information, view “Animal Hospital Design Strategies for Better Care,” published by the American Animal Hospital Association with a grant from Midmark.

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Oleksandr Pupko

 

Illustration of a veterinary practice waiting room representative of design.

Design with staff in mind

A pleasant, efficient workplace can help your customers attract new staff and retain their prized veteran workers. “Although ergonomics are relatively new to the animal health industry, other industries like human medicine and manufacturing have dedicated ergonomics teams that are solely focused on improving people’s comfort, efficiency, and safety in the workplace,” said Scott Manning, Scott Manning, senior manager, design and construction, Midmark Animal Health.

“In addition to creating an aesthetically pleasing environment that staff are proud to work in, there are several opportunities to integrate employee-friendly features that support the overall health and safety of staff.”

“Ergonomics are often overlooked, yet veterinary care teams suffer from high rates of repetitive-motion injuries. Lifting heavy patients onto exam tables, sitting in awkward positions for lengthy amounts of time, and straining to reach can all strain staff.

“Adding lift tables in exam rooms and treatment rooms helps reduce the physical strain of lifting heavy patients,” he said. “Further, it allows staff to adjust the height of the exam table to accommodate the caregiver’s height. Often, practices that invest in lift tables find that their staff assigns patients to those rooms first when given the choice. Clearly, reducing stress, fatigue and physical strain is important to employees in their day-to-day routines.

“Also, with the integration of care technologies, easy access to tools and resources can also make the work environment more employee-friendly. Ergonomic, adjustable mobile workstations ensure staff have their chosen technology close at hand.”

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/UnitoneVector