Transforming the patient-clinician experience in retail healthcare: 5 'flips' to consider

Flip the Clinic is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project invented to transform the patient-clinician experience. In their language, “flips” are actionable ideas for change, writes Gensler's Tama Duffy Day.

August 18, 2015 |

Image: Ryan Gobuty, courtesy GenslerOn

Flip the Clinic is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project invented to transform the patient – clinician experience. In their language, “flips” are actionable ideas for change. They offer over 60 flips on their website and here are two of my favorites: #57 Reach the Parents, Serve the Kids - which speaks to attaching clinics to elementary schools and the need for engaging the parents. #33 Provide context, improve understanding, and generate empathy between physician and patient – which resulted in a current twitter campaign (#IWishMyDoc and #IWishMyPatient) to increase shared understanding. I encourage you to engage and tweet your own thoughts on this topic.

As a designer, the campaign got me thinking: what other ways could healthcare providers leverage design to flip their clinics? Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has led to an increased number of newly insured patients, there is now a marked increase in the retail clinic model. Is there a way for existing healthcare providers to make the ‘flip’ to retail health that will increase health in our communities?

Before moving to Chicago from Washington, DC, I oversaw the programming, design and delivery of five unique Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and their Community Health Center (CHC) counterparts in that region: Arlington Free Clinic, Community of Hope, Unity Health Care Center at Brentwood Square, Pediatric Specialists of Virginia and Whitman-Walker Health.

In brief, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers, the retail clinic model involves a small site, inside a retail store, that is staffed by a nurse practitioner and treats simple acute conditions. Variations of the retail clinic models for FQHC’s and CHC’s exist, but all five of the Centers listed above chose to focus on providing their services in a convenient location (but not in a retail store).

Below are five flips that are actionable items to consider when designing retail health strategies for Health Centers and were gathered from this experience.

1. Know the Financial Driver

At Whitman-Walker Health, the COO indicated that the success of their pharmacy was critical to the success of their Center. Period. Previously hidden within their clinic waiting area, their old pharmacy was crowded and not very retail focused. Knowing this, the design team placed the new pharmacy adjacent to the front door of the clinic. It was given significant retail “presence” in its branding with happy colors, and is visible from the active urban street. The results – increased foot traffic and sales the first week of opening – which has also driven an increase in clinic visits. Strategic design drives financial success.

2. Align the social brand with the physical brand

The Arlington Free Clinic had always been very caring and community focused. What it couldn’t imagine was that their physical space could and should align with this vision. It just hadn’t occurred to them it was possible within their means. Moving to a new location provided just that opportunity to re-imagine possibilities. With clear medical planning, right sizing their pharmacy and providing a healthy workplace for staff, their facility--now four years old—continues to inspire not only patients but also more than 500 clinic volunteers. A patient survey indicated that “100% responded that the new clinic space is light-filled and uplifting.” The project was accomplished on budget, was recognized for its sustainability by the Washington Business Journal, and was published in numerous design journals. All to say, design can be inspirational and affordable.

3. Education Drives Health

When the CEO of Community of Hope was asked to open up a clinic in Anacostia, an under-served area in SE Washington, DC, she recognized the need for community outreach and education along with providing a medical home (physical, mental and dental care). The initial test fit diagram given to us decentralized the educational program within each service line. To support community outreach and education, and stay within their established square footage, the educational elements were gathered together at the front of the building on the first floor to create one educational / conference area– visible to the community and passersby. This physical shift has allowed Community of Hope the space to host the Mayor, hold fund raisers, and offer community health educational venues. Community of Hope accomplished more than it set out to accomplish because design enabled it to invent a social incubator for health.


Image: Halliburton North Belt Child Development Center Lobby, Ryan Gobuty, courtesy GenslerOn


4. Flexibility is Key

Creating a universal patient room was the contributing success factor for both Unity Health and Pediatric Specialties of Virginia. Through sketches, renderings, mock-ups and testing, we established a universal room size and shape that would accommodate 99% of their needs: exams, dental operatories, behavioral health consultation rooms and pediatric care. This standard module provided for extreme flexibility in their staffing and operational models, which in turn allowed them to expand capacity and increase throughput, both of which are requirements in the new retail health model of care. Design provides opportunities for operational improvement.

5. Pay it Forward

The beauty is that all this learning is being carried forward. Our current work with UCLA, UCSD, Northwestern Medicine, Children’s National Health System, Children’s Pediatricians and Associates, and Mary’s Center benefit from these learnings. Our clients talk to each other, they compare results, they tour and determine if aspects of these Centers will align with their own operational and cultural lens. They measure, they look at our research, they determine their service lines, and their decisions impact the health of our communities. Design shapes healthy communities.

One size does not fit all when designing for retail health. Healthcare is uniquely personal and the care model as well as the facility itself should cater to each specific clientele. Log on to the flip the clinic website and engage. Let’s continue to develop and share actionable items for retail health change.

About the Author: Tama Duffy Day is a Principal and Firmwide Health & Wellness practice leader. She is dedicated to raising the awareness of the impact that design has on health. She can be reached at and @TamaDuffyDay.

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