Putting Patients Center Stage

New Design Strategy Creates ‘Offstage’ Area for Medical Staff


Dr. Angela Lim discusses the patient experience with Lori Toliver Cawley.

It’s called the patient visit of the future, and it’s popping up in medical offices throughout the NorthBay Healthcare system. There’s still a check-in, the compulsory blood pressure, temperature and pulse recordings and a visit from your doctor.

So what’s new? Much of it is now in the background, explains Joelyn Gropp, NorthBay’s assistant vice president of real estate and facilities development. “The hustle bustle of interaction between doctors and medical assistants no longer happens in the hallways as patients are coming and going. It’s all offstage. We borrowed that concept from Disney,” she said with a smile. “We’ve created a quiet, efficient workspace where doctors and medical staff can interact quickly and quietly between patient visits.”

To improve the patient experience, doctors and medical staff now meet “offstage” to exchange information.

Medical offices at the new VacaValley Wellness Center in Vacaville were specially designed with that concept in mind. There’s a patient corridor with entrances on one side of all exam rooms, and an entrance for medical staff on the other. Two wings of patient rooms flank both sides of an “offstage area” for the NorthBay Cancer Center, the NorthBay Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology, and Integrative Medicine, which includes Functional Medicine, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine or OMM, and Acupuncture.

“As we create new buildings, we’re adopting this concept throughout,” explained Joelyn. “It’s a lot easier when you build from the ground up. When you have existing structures, you have to be creative.”

She noted teams at the older Center for Primary Care facilities in Vacaville and Fairfield have worked to create backstage pods of activity, and do their best to minimize interactions in front of patients.

“It’s all about improving the patient experience to be the best it can be,” explained Joelyn.

In July, a team from Integrative Medicine gathered at their soon-to-open office in the Wellness Center in Vacaville to test the new patient flow, by inviting a couple of patients to walk through.

Lori Toliver Cawley and Debra Lum checked in at the new front desk with patient service representatives Sheryl Canumay and Mary Castillo. Both were invited to enter the patient corridor and find their assigned room. At other facilities, they would have had to wait for a medical assistant to escort them to a room.

Moments later, Debra was greeted by Melanie Aten, medical assistant, who took her blood pressure, pulse and temperature. By sitting on the exam table, her weight was taken without having to step onto a scale. And in every patient room, there’s a copier, so staff doesn’t have to step away to make a copy.

Melanie asked a few questions before exiting into the provider area. Then Dr. Angela Lim stepped in to walk through a mock visit with her patient.

Throughout the visits, Joelyn and Adan Iracheta, practice manager for the Pain Center, were asking questions of the team and the patients and taking notes. “What seems to be working well? Where could we improve? Does it all make sense?”

“We’ll fine-tune it as we go,” said Joelyn, “We’ll share notes and create scripts so all our medical offices can share their best practices. Once we get it down to a science, we won’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

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