General practice tool kit

Your practice premises

Layout

Last revised: 24 Oct 2019

The practice layout

Things to consider when designing the layout of your practice.

Have at least one consulting room per clinical team member (ie GPs and practice nurses), plus treatment rooms and larger procedure rooms for performing minor procedures and emergency treatment.

As a guide, allow approximately:

  • 12-16 m2 for each consulting room so they can each fit a height-adjustable examination couch, a privacy screen or curtain, a hand basin, and patient chairs
  • 7 m2 (eg 2.5 x 3.0 m) for each treatment room
  • 16 m2 (eg 3.5 x 4.5 m) for each procedure room, so they can each fit a height-adjustable operating table, a surgical trolley/table, and patient chairs.
  • Cluster consulting rooms around the waiting area to reduce the walk time.
  • Position consulting rooms close to treatment rooms, as patients will often need to move between them.
  • Clinical equipment and clinical waste must be in a location and at a height that makes them inaccessible to children.
  • Arrange furniture and facilities so that the doctor’s chair is nearest to the door, so that if there is an aggressive or violent patient, the doctor has a clear exit.
  • Install duress alarms in each room, and ideally, a second emergency exit in each consulting room.
  • Install power points with appropriate safety approval for clinical equipment and technology (eg power-adjusted examination beds, ECGs, examination lights, computers) and locate the power points where they are easy to access.

Tip

For safety and environmental reasons, always ensure equipment such as height-adjustable tables and beds are turned off when not in use.

  • Design soundproof rooms.
  • Aim for natural light in each room, but ensure that you maintain patient privacy. 
  • Install flooring that is easy to clean.
  • Dedicate an area to the cleaning, sterilisation and storage of medical supplies and vaccines.

You must ensure that people with disability or special needs can access your practice and its services in ways that maintain their dignity.

RACGP Standards

C2.3 A Our patients with disabilities or special needs can access our services

View the standards >

Patients' experience in the waiting area will impact their overall experience in your practice. The layout, decoration and ambiance can all impact this. Create a space that is welcoming and calm, and also ensures patient privacy where required.
 
Seating

  • Consider a mixture of seating types to allow patients and their relatives to choose what is appropriate for them. For instance, two seater sofas are useful especially for parents with children, whereas chairs with arms are useful for older people who need to use their arms to seat themselves and to rise again. Also consider bariatric chairs.
  • Avoid sterile seating arrangements. Instead, create groups of chairs rather than theatre-like rows of seats. Where seats are facing use a minimum distance of 1 meter to ensure accessibility and to minimise infection exposure by spacing patients.
  • Allocate approximately 6 chairs per clinical team member
  • Allocate approximately 2m2 for each chair
  • Configure the reception area, so reception staff members can monitor the waiting area.
 

Family friendly

  • A children's play area acts as a distraction for children and identifies your practice as family friendly, which also helps attract potential patients.
  • If providing children’s furniture and play equipment make sure they are washable, safe & durable and not a choking or trip hazard. 
  • Play background music in the patient waiting area to create a relaxing environment and improve patient privacy.
    • Note: licenses are required for use of pre-recorded material and the radio, see the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)/ Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS) website.
  • Ensure patient education posters, brochures and screens are visible and appropriate to the health literacy and cultural needs of your patients. Examples include: screening information, infection control information, policies (cultural, billing, appointment types) and practice updates, such as practitioners taking leave or leaving the practice.
  • Consider how you can meet the cultural needs of your patient population. This may include separate sections in the waiting area for men and women.
  • Have a plan for distressed patients to be afforded privacy (such as an unused room or the staff room) where the person can wait before seeing a practitioner.
  • Provide tissues, rubbish bins and alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Consider a space where you can isolate infectious patients away from other waiting patients when needed. 
  • Patient toilets for urine and specimen collection, and the routes to and from them, should not be visible from the waiting area.
  • At least one toilet must allow people with disabilities to safely and comfortably access the facilities
  • Consider having separate bathrooms for the practice team and patients.

Reception and waiting rooms are generally where a patient will have their first impression of your practice. Create an area that reflects your vision of the practice and how you want patients to feel when they are in your practice.

  • Allow approximately 10m2 per staff member in administration areas.
  • Allow sufficient space for office equipment (eg computers, printers, files) and waste collection.

Registering and monitoring patients

  • Locate the reception area close to the patient entrance so patients immediately know where they need to go when they arrive, and reception staff can see people arrive and quickly identify medical emergencies and reprioritise appointments.
  • Locate the reception area close to the waiting area so staff can see and monitor waiting patients.

Accommodating patients’ considerations

  • Consider patients with disabilities when deciding on the height of reception desks, doorknobs, sinks and hand-driers in bathrooms.
  • Locate computer screens so that they don’t block patient interactions, but keep private information out of sight.
  • Consider patient privacy and confidentiality in reception and waiting areas, as reception staff may need to discuss patients’ health needs and financial arrangements

Thoughts from a general practice owner:

Seeking and receiving health care is a very personal experience. While some people prefer using devices such as kiosks or tablets to “check in”, many patients still prefer to be greeted and welcomed by real people. But all too often, the phones are ringing and conversations are interrupted, which detracts from the person-to-person interaction.

One effective way of giving patients and reception staff a better experience is to separate administrative tasks and locate them accordingly. For example, one or more staff members could be allocated to patient check-ins and payments at the front desk, and others allocated to phone calls and ancillary tasks in a location away from patients. As well as allowing more personal interactions between reception staff and patients, this will also provide a better environment for staff doing administration work.

  • Provide staff toilets and a staff tea-room that is large enough to accommodate social interactions and team meetings.
  • Consider providing a dedicated meeting and education facility.
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