Interior designer and creative director Benedict Wilhelm discusses the importance of décor in clinic, detailing how this can have a positive impact on patients and maximise business potential
Does the following sound like a familiar scenario? It has been a few years since you first moved into your current space, the flooring, furniture and most of its fabric is dated and worn. Even though the clinic has been repainted at least once a year since its opening, the repaints are now showing, especially around sockets and switches. You wanted to revive not hide your clinic, but your attempts at making it look better are gradually becoming indicators of its age. In many ways it doesn't feel fresh, it just feels outdated. Not only could the wear and tear be letting your space down, it is lacking in other ways. The business has developed and so have your treatments, but the additions or inclusion of new products are making your retail area look overcrowded.
Over the years, technology, style and fashion have moved on and this should be reflected in your clinic space. You may have felt there might be an opportunity to add another treatment room to increase your revenue, rearrange the waiting area to optimise work flow or simply create more storage for some of your equipment, in order to maximise space and elevate the overall customer experience. But how do you do this effectively?
What your clinic needs is a finely-tuned update that allows you to stand out from the crowd. You want to deliver to your patients not just the exceptional service and expertise that your reputation has been built upon, but also create a powerful experience that resonates long after your patient leaves. We call this your, ‘unique customer journey’. Patient satisfaction is the foundation to a successful business and by creating a bespoke environment to visit for their aesthetic treatment is likely to make them feel comfortable, relaxed and in good hands. A full refurb or even a basic upgrade should not be perceived as a costly necessity nor a necessary evil. It is in fact an opportunity to add value and future proof your business, rectify some initial wrong decisions and perhaps even recreate your clinic.
If your budget allows, I would recommend bringing in a professional. An interior architect or designer with a proven track record within the industry, who isn’t afraid of scale, can help you with your planning, design and important regulations such as health and safety. Only too often clients have come to my studio after jumping into the deep end, only to realise too late that it just doesn’t work or, in some cases, might be deemed illegal. Be sure to check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and building regulations set out by the UK government, specifically the Health Building Note, which states that health buildings should ‘provide a therapeutic environment in which the overall design of the building contributes to the process of healing and reduces risk of infection’.1 Often it is as simple as having sockets too close to the sinks or not highlighting stair treads accurately. Lucky, these issues are easily rectifiable but in some cases are more substantial and require intervention.
For example, many cases may not cater for The Building Regulations 2010, Part M2 that address things like sufficient corridor widths in regards to wheelchair users. Knowledge of how to work with and around these regulations in order to develop a visionary design, as well as having a clear understanding of the brand and your customers, is so important; all of which is something a qualified designer can help with. The designer will go through a process of stages including research, concept, concept development, detailing and implementation, in order to arrive at a viable and workable space.
If bringing in a professional isn't feasible, there’s nothing stopping you from completing your clinic’s refurbishment yourself. So, where do you start and how should you approach a project like this, while minimising risk? The starting point to finding answers is by asking the right questions, not only amongst your directors or stakeholders, but also amongst your staff. They are at the heart of your business and thus could provide valuable insight that could develop your plan. We advise splitting questions you may want to address into three categories: functionality and productivity, atmosphere and design, and identity and branding.
For aesthetic clinics, you are looking at whether the space works from a functional point of view and if not how can you make this work better. For example, making the best use of staff in reception and retail area is always important. You want to make sure your patients are attended to 100%, this means taking calls and making bookings as well as advising on treatments and products from your retail selection simultaneously. Working out a layout and design that minimises over-staffing by keeping these areas close together is one of many solutions.
You should also consider customer flow and workflow in the reception, retail area, corridors and treatment rooms. Maximising the space is essential and there may be potential to add value in regards to additional treatment rooms in a business sense. If this is something that you would want to do, then I would advise reviewing the current layout, looking at both the front of house and back of house and evaluate if they are both working to the best of their ability.
There have been a number of studies to suggest that patient satisfaction is linked with the atmosphere of their treatment room. Professor of marketing at Northwestern University, Philip Kotler, has stated that often ‘businessmen neglect atmosphere as a marketing tool’.3 As a result of this, start asking, do our patients look great with our lighting within the space no matter where they are? Lighting has huge impact on making the patient not only look great but potentially making them feel calm and comfortable. On every project we always bring in our lighting designer as a vital part of the design. However, if you want a simple upgrade, just add flexibility by making your lights dimmable. There are plenty of wireless systems out there, which will allow you to achieve this with an easy retro fit and without having to rewire the entire practice.
Also ask yourself and staff, is the temperature in the treatment rooms and waiting area adequate throughout the year and do we have the ability to regulate this for the individual patient requirements? Not only that but do we have an all senses approach? Human beings are sense driven and responsive, especially on a subconscious level, so keeping this in mind is probably one of the most important aspects when designing.
In my experience, the starting point to any project is asking ourselves, what does the customer want to smell, hear and feel and how do we translate this into a physical working environment. Does the clinic offer complete privacy and a sense of anonymity? Most conversations held with the aesthetic practitioner are private and of intimate nature. However there is also the sense of wanting your own space in the waiting area, for example. This can be resolved by specifying wing back chairs or in the treatment room scenario, adequately insulating the walls and ceiling.
Branding is one of the most crucial elements of any business as it is how we are perceived by the outside world. You could be offering renowned treatments and a great service, but if your branding isn’t reflective of this then consumers may be left with a sense of uncertainty.4 Ask yourself, does the branding still work or is it time to upgrade? The easiest solution here is to do a survey with patients, friends and staff asking a series of questions. Asking these questions will allow you to gauge what changes may be necessary. Prioritise them so that once you look at designs, budgets and timings, you will be able to put together a plan that you can feel confident and proud of. It is also a good time to assess whether you want to move into a more digital setting and what may be required from your space to cater for this. For example, a back-drop location for online consultations, social media marketing or even branded screens to showcase 3D technology.
Once you have completed the research stage, put together a concept. This can be as simple as pulling together some simple sketch layouts, creating a mind map, reference images and material samples ready for discussion with your team and partners. My preferred personal approach to putting together a concept is working in a team and bouncing ideas off of one another. I believe all good ideas come from collaboration, not just one person.
Here you should test your concept with a selection of proposed builders, building control consultant and discuss feasibility with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and laser consultants. Before you go any further, you want to make sure it works and is of course legal.
Even though the actual drawing up of plans will be produced by your contractor and other sub-contractors, make sure you understand them. Again, taking time out and going over these a few times, as well as making the contractor explain in detail how they have interpreted your vision, will make all the difference. We find marking out on site is invaluable, for example, take tape and highlight everything from wall location to sockets.
Your refurbishment is about to commence. Make sure you have a fixed cost contract for the work in order to avoid any unexpected and hidden costs, as well as a final confirmed handover date. Give yourself a few extra days after the official completion date to adjust to the new layout and cater for any unexpected delays or last minute alterations. You will also want to make sure that information has been communicated with your staff and patients, so it’s always good to set up a marketing email and social media post to inform them of any temporary closures whilst the work is taking place. The length of the refurbishment or redecorating will depend on the scope required. I’ve learned that it is always better to do this in one go rather than splitting it into stages of any number, it’s false economy and in my experience rarely works.
Your clinic interiors are a vital part of your business. Allow time to do it properly once, rather than half-heartedly twice. In my opinion, I recommend allocating most of your budget to your front-of-house refurbishment as your patients will appreciate and notice it; then you can work your way back. Redecorating or refurbishing your clinic will disrupt your business, but by putting in the extra hours at the start and creating a plan for the work, you will be able to vastly reduce disruption and unwanted extra costs.
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