by Brian Taylor
“Signal & Noise” is a bimonthly column by Brian Taylor, AuD.
Finally, we reach the top of the Progression of Economic Value by transforming patients. In healthcare, according to Joe Pine,1 customized or staged experiences that are inherently memorable and personal are likely to lead to a transformative event for the patient. A series of memorable patient experiences that are staged by the audiologist and their support staff is the raw material that guides individuals to change or become transformed.
There are many skills, procedures and tactics that comprise the “what” and “how” of guiding a transformative event with a patient. These will be covered in upcoming Signal & Noise columns. Let’s conclude here by addressing the underpinnings of a clinic workplace that is likely to foster a feeling of transformation: The physical design of a work space where you talk with patients and their communication partners.
The physical design and layout of an office is a missed opportunity to engage patients on an emotional level. Too often audiology clinics are sterile, drab and medical. If we need to do a better job of connecting with our patients, then it naturally follows that designing a physical space that exudes calmness, personalization and orderliness is critical to success. And yet another case where best principles from outside the profession can be a guiding light.
More than a Comfortable Chair
Psychologists, therapists and counselors are professionals well regarded for nurturing strong emotional connections with their patients. Given the type of work they do, it seems like a place to find design principles that promote positive interactions between licensed professionals and patients. Studying how those professions work with clients might even give us some ideas on physical design of a clinic work space that can help audiologists differentiate and customize their services.
Visit a psychologist who carefully considers their clinical work space and you are likely to see large windows providing plenty of natural light, a profusion of healthy green plants, comfortable, supportive chairs and nature-based artwork. Look around the room and you’ll see diplomas hang in a corner to advertise the professional’s expertise, and a clean, clutter-free desk adds to the feeling of openness and space.
There is a place, the Center for Health Design, that carefully considers the needs of patients who have chronic conditions, like hearing loss. Conditions that often take some time to address and overcome Spend some time with the experts at the Center for Health Design2 and you will quickly generate a list of design elements that will help you guide patient transformations. After spending some time on their website, here are some ideas for re-designing the physical work space of an audiology clinic.
- Keep the ambience light. The color of the office walls sets a tone. Wall colors in light, soothing colors like sage green or dusty blue promote a sense of calm and relaxation, environmental designers say.
- Go with the grain. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, people prefer natural-colored wood with a grain rather than nongrain surfaces, research finds. People also feel more comfortable with wood than with slicker options like glass and chrome. However, there’s a limit to how much wood you should use: Research shows that when natural wood surfaces like floors and walls exceed 45 percent of a room’s surface, they start losing their stress-busting effects.
- Natural light is a big mood booster, so whenever possible, incorporate windows or skylights. If windows are at eye level, the best views look out on calming, natural scenery, not onto bustling sidewalks or roads with distracting sights and sounds.
- If your office lacks windows, use floor and table lamps with soft lighting rather than overhead fluorescent lighting to promote a feeling of comfort and coziness. Some lightbulbs even simulate natural light, which can boost the positive ambience of windowless offices.
- Bring nature into the office—whether with plants, flowers, nature embodied in artwork, decorative objects or views of plant-filled courtyards and landscaped areas— nature enhances the healing quality of a space.
- The right nature-based artwork can also give patients a way to muse on life situations, these experts add. Images of a pathway through a serene landscape or a bench in the middle of a pleasingly landscaped garden can foster relaxation or allow patients to make mental associations with the imagery.
- Positive distractions, interesting displays of memorabilia can help break the ice. In an audiology practice, since we are working with sound, use memorabilia with music or radio themes.
- Promote your expertise. Displaying your credentials might seem self-serving, but patients want to see signs of your expertise. In one study, participants looked briefly at photos of therapy offices with zero, two, four or nine diplomas on the wall. People rated therapists who worked in offices with four and nine credentials most favorably.
- Consider ditching the lab coat. There is a raging debate about how patients perceive a professional wearing a lab coat. If you have the option of not wearing a lab coat, consider leaving it in the closet. Professionals that work with adults who deal with chronic conditions over a relatively period seldom wear lab coats
- Interestingly, the Center says the patient’s chair is the most crucial element in an office. To support the patient’s need for control, consider having chairs that can be moved or are large enough to let people shift to one side or the other and adjust the distance between themselves and the professional. In addition, place small tables next to the patient’s chair, which can enhance patients’ sense of “territory” by giving them a place to put personal items. Finally, if you are lucky enough to have space for a table so that you can sit with the patient and their communication partner, be sure the table is round instead of square. Experts say a round table promotes a more relaxed and inclusive environment.
- The presence of computers is known to impede communication, particularly when the patient perceives the provider is paying more attention to the computer than to him or her. If possible take handwritten notes. If its necessary to use a computer, take the time to explain to the patient that you are taking notes and focus as much eye contact as possible on the patient while typing.
- Keep a clean, clutter-free work space.
In a field driven by technological innovation, it may seem strange to talk about something as ordinary as the layout of your clinic. But when you think about the impact hearing loss has on individuals and their families, it’s surprising audiologists haven’t spent more time on basic design concepts that foster patient well-being and support. Maybe it all does start with a firm handshake and a comfortable chair.
Brian Taylor, AuD, Brian Taylor is the director of clinical audiology for the Fuel Medical Group. He also serves as the editor of Audiology Practices, the quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and editor-in-chief of Hearing News Watch for HHTM. Brian has held a variety of positions within the industry, including stints with Amplifon (1999-2008) and Unitron (2008-2015). Dr. Taylor has more than 25 years of clinical, teaching and practice management experience. He has written and edited six textbooks, including the third edition of Audiology Practice Management (Thieme Press) which will be published in 2018. He lives in Minneapolis, MN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*feature image courtesy of Cambridge in Color