Our practice has been serving Western North Carolina since 1955. For more than 60 years, our office was located in downtown Waynesville – a quaint, walkable Appalachian town. My business partner, Dr. Aimee McBride, and I have owned our office together since 2016. Despite our quaint and unique location, we quickly outgrew our space and knew we had to move or risk stagnating our growing practice. In January of 2020, we purchased a new building with the hopes of renovating and moving by the end of 2020. While Covid made renovations more chaotic than we anticipated, we officially opened the doors of our new office in September of 2021.
While change is great, we found it important to consider both the improvements and challenges our new office would present. We had two major goals with our new office: 1) ensure we build not only a new clinic but one with better efficiencies and 2) ensure we honored and continued our tradition of a boutique optical experience.
When it came to designing our new space, we used Optometric Architects and EyeDesigns. Our prior office was four exam lanes and about 2,000 square feet. Although this is plenty of room for a successful clinic, the historic building was choppy and created logistical issues. Our office efficiencies were limited based on our awkward space and set up. Our new office, with eight exam lanes across 5,000 square feet, allows us to not only utilize a larger space, but also be more efficient with how we operate.
However, bigger isn’t always better. During our design process, we needed to consider how a patient would move throughout our office and interact with our team. We made it a top priority to ensure that our office flow was smooth from the patients’ standpoint – both in the clinic and in the optical department.
Designing an Efficient Space
No one enjoys waiting – especially if you are going to spend money. Wait times can become the biggest hurdle for us to earn our patients’ business. We want our patient experience to be efficient, but not rushed. No one wants to walk in, wait 20 minutes to fill out the same forms, then have to wait forever for the next staff member to get to them. Our goal is always to value our patients’ time by the actions that we do – not just by what we say – and that starts from the moment patients walk into our office.
Our current office has a very small “waiting area.” When paired with our inner-office communication systems, a patient is minimally waiting and moving around in our office, and our team comes to them directly. When patients walk in, our team immediately greets them and makes sure they’re comfortable by offering them a coffee, while simultaneously ensuring we have all the proper documentation, and their insurance information is up to date. Our technicians shortly thereafter begin the exam process and use our centrally located pre-testing area for some basic work up data before bringing the patient to the exam room. During the exam, if a patient needs any special testing, contact lens trials, prices, or anything else, the doctor can communicate with a team member to come directly to the room the patient is in. Near the conclusion of the exam, while one of our doctors is wrapping up their visit, an optician is alerted and joins the doctor and patient. This final interaction not only increases our efficiency but ensures effective communication about recommendations and needs for their optical selection. It also allows our doctor to transfer over the trust we have just built with the patient to one of our opticians.
Our focus on efficiency not only speeds up our patient encounters, but it also eliminates downtime to increase the quality time our team spends with the patient and ultimately ensure we meet their needs. While this sounds overly simplistic, it was very intentional in the design phase of our building to ensure the patient was traveling as efficiently as possible, as to not add extra mental stress, and as a result lower the chances of earning their business.
Designing an Optical for Experience
Great independent frames will only sell if they are presented as such. We found that this was most important when displaying our frames with two variables: 1) lighting and 2) presentation to the patient when dispensing.
Our vision was to make sure our optical had beautiful displays and more than enough high-quality lighting to let our product sell themselves. For over 60+ years at our prior location, our office offered an eclectic boutique feel. One of our biggest challenges with our new space was how to keep our boutique feel while also bringing in products to serve the needs of all patients in our small Appalachian town. Whether that’s a budget frame or a high-end frame, we still wanted to make it feel like you had a high-end experience. Regardless of what our patients walk out of the optical with, we don’t want that experience to feel cheapened in any way. We do this by presenting the frames, no matter the price point, the same way.
The lighting in our optical is an important first impression for patients when selecting frames. Our, some would say, excessive lighting, allows each frame to stand out when a patient is selecting their next pair of eyewear. Additionally, when a patient arrives to pick up their new glasses, their glasses are brought out and displayed to them on a custom Haywood Family Eye Care board and delivered with a chocolate truffle. The patient experience is the same regardless of the frame selection. When a patient decides to purchase with us, we want to give them an elevated experience, regardless of how much money they’re spending.
Designing a new space and office can be overwhelming and exciting. It is important to start with why you are starting this process and what you define as success. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and distracted by a number of fantastic designs and ideas. My biggest piece of advice for any practitioner starting this process is to focus on what you want your office experience, not just the physical building, to feel like to the patient. What will a patient say when they leave your office? And is there any way you can use your new space to earn business more than you do now? Focusing on the patient experience is likely to bring you success in your optical and your business.