Moving Your Primary Care Office: A Survival Guide

Primary Care Matters is a guest column written for MedStat by a local pediatrician or primary care provider.

Eileen C. Bolton, MD, Worthington Pediatrics(From the March 2019 Issue of MedStat)

By Eileen C. Bolton, MD, Worthington Pediatrics — Dr. Bolton is a physician with Worthington Pediatrics. She attended medical school at the University of Cincinnati and completed her pediatric residency at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She has been on the medical staff at Nationwide Children’s since 2002.

When I was asked to contribute a brief article on tips for moving an office, my first impulse was to warn you … don’t do it! It’s a lot of work and upheaval, but if my experience can make it a bit easier, here it goes.

  1. Start with some very objective goals. WHY are you moving? If you’re just in need of an update or a few more exam rooms, see if your existing space can be modified. With EMR, billing offices and chart storage could be reconfigured. Your current landlord may provide an improvement allowance, saving you time, money, and the agony of notifying your patients, payers and vendors. Not convinced? Or don’t want to try to see patients in a construction zone? Read on.
  2. Hire a professional business realtor. Find someone with experience in medical office relocation. They can help you with your list of needs/wants and find the ideal space. They use market surveys with local demographics and will provide spreadsheets to compare sites’ utility and upkeep costs, and initial amounts for tenant improvement allowance.
  3. Visit sites. Preview online so you don’t waste time with an unsuitable space. You will be surprised how many buildings say “nonsmoking” only to then run the gauntlet of smokers on your way in. Or, the “urgent care” next door is actually a pain clinic. Consider traffic, parking, and the other tenants. The leasing agent may not divulge these details. Is there a large retailer that controls the signage for the complex? Rank your favorites and see what your realtor can negotiate. Read the fine print or you may sign a 10-year lease only to find there is a bar going in on the first floor.
  4. Pick out what YOU want. A move to an existing space will be much different than a new build or having your new landlord build it out. Someone else may choose the architect and the contractors, but you need to work with them on space design. Obtain enlarged blueprints so you can see every detail. Have the architect come to your office and take notes. You want a design that aids your clinical flow. Share what you like about the current space and want to change in the new place. Make sure all partners have a say, and listen to the insight of your office manager and nursing supervisor.
  5. Don’t sign off on ANY plans until you are comfortable. Make sure doors don’t swing open and hit exam tables, and that electrical outlets are not placed where toddlers can access them, but are close enough for a nebulizer. YOU want to pick the fixtures up front, as changing later leads to a fee. Walls, floors, lighting. Insulation between rooms. Look at many samples. Breakroom. Waiting room. Storage for supplies and equipment. Clean/dirty utility rooms. Eyewash station. Pass-through doors for urine samples. HVAC (have someone that can read these plans, as changing ductwork later is expensive). Consider current needs AND the five-year plan. You want outlets and cabling to add another practitioner, and extra breakroom space for additional staff. Have your OSHA representative review for safety.
  6. Monitor progress. Once the lease is signed and permits obtained, designate someone to go to the construction meetings to keep them on schedule and assure everything makes sense before an expensive mistake is made. Ask questions. Take notes. Bring workers doughnuts or fresh garden tomatoes.
  7. Work out the timeline. Coordinate that with the construction calendar. Talk to your tech department at least three months in advance about EMR and cabling work. Find out about utilities, phone, electric, gas, water – who is responsible for switching them over? What about the old place? Do you have contracts with a 90-day termination notice? Who will notify vendors, payers, and most importantly the patients? Mailing postcards is necessary. Email and social media are also helpful. Your old place needs a sign to indicate the move, and the new place may allow “coming soon” signs. Make sure signs match the address, especially during construction. A very visible notice sign can avoid delivery problems. Google Map it, as many of our patients (and at least one employee) ended up miles away at a similar address. Make corrections as soon as you notice an error.
  8. Hire a professional moving company. They can assess your needs, provide boxes, a tracking system, and enough people to get the job done in within two days. Meet with your staff regularly to assign roles. Pack non-essential items well beforehand. Get new keys to the new place, as the locks change when the last contractor leaves. Find out what needs done to get your deposit back in the old place, and bring lots of cleaning supplies to the new one. Even if it was cleaned right before your move in, it will be dusty. Bring pizza. Breathe.
  9. Plan a party. Offset the pain of the process with an open house. Wait at least two weeks as you will not be done unpacking things for at least a month. Invite your neighbors (new AND old), and they may even help you out. (Thank you Dairy Queen treat truck!) Bring your long-suffering family and enjoy.
  10. Remind everyone of the move for a LONG time. People get lost, especially if they are new drivers or multitasking moms. Things you thought you took care of will come up missing. I was lucky. I had a full team of realtors, IT, credentialing, marketing, staff, awesome fellow physicians, and a dedicated office manager. I still lost sleep (but unfortunately not weight) until we were safely moved. I still have tools in my office and know all the guys at the ACE hardware. (Panera still delivers to the wrong address for staff meetings however.) On the plus side, our new space is airy and bright, well located, and if things get tough, there is that growler fill station below us, or more to my taste, the Dairy Queen two doors down.

 

 

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