By Polly Keary, Editor
The new Providence Medical Group in Monroe is a lot like an iPod; sleek, modern, state of the art and ultimately rather simple.
Wednesday, the smell of paint competed with the smell of coffee near the small espresso counter in the entry area, where the barista, the owner of Paesano’s in Monroe, was testing out his new machine.
The imposing $22 million structure will open Oct. 7, but people can get a preview of the new medical center at an open house to take place Saturday, Sept. 28 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
What visitors will find is a building with a fair amount of cutting edge technology, most of which seems to be designed to simplify and streamline processes in what is actually a rather uncomplicated facility.
Upon entering, patients will arrive at one of eight stations arrayed like tellers in a bank. Once there, each patient is given a radio tag called a Versus badge to clip on and wear.
That tag contains no information about the patient, but rather lets staff know where the patient is and how long that person has been there.
The goal is that no one waits in line more than two minutes or takes longer than five minutes to register.
In fact, there are no waiting rooms anywhere in the facility. Rather, there are “pause stations.”
Immediately after registering, a patient is guided to one of 58 small and nearly identical exam rooms. Each one contains one cream-colored exam table that starts out at sofa-height and raises electronically.
That, says project director Patt Richesin, is a lot safer than the old step-up model.
“One thing we have a problem with in heath care is the table you step up onto,” she said. “There are a lot of accidents.”
There is also a small swiveling desk, a printer, a computer screen on an arm, and a chair for the doctor. Near the door is a small electronic scale. Beyond that, there isn’t a lot of visible medical equipment in the room.
“There’s nothing on the walls,” said Richesin. “It’s all about the patient experience.”
There are four clusters of exam rooms, called “neighborhoods,” each grouped around a central open area. There is one neighborhood downstairs and three on the second floor, and in one spot it’s possible to stand at one end of the building and look straight through all three neighborhoods to the other end.
In the central area of each are 16 computers, and that’s where doctors and specialists sit, sharing each computer with a medical assistant.
There are no doctor’s offices. The only concessions to personal space in the facility are the “green rooms,” basically small staff rooms where a staff person could step out to make a personal call, adjoining each neighborhood.
Each neighborhood also has a medical room for dispensing basic meds, a clean room and a dirty room with an autoclave for sterilizing medical equipment, and a fleet of rolling carts.
The carts are what make it possible to have so many identical exam rooms. Rather than have rooms with cabinets full of specialized equipment, one selects the appropriate equipment cart for the needs of the patient. Each cart is sort of a large rolling medical kit.
There are carts for standard exams, cardiology exams, and so on, and each is fitted out with a limited amount of supplies. When the supplies get low, the doctor puts a small card on the cart, and each night, someone goes through and restocks them from a central supply, which goes a long way toward reducing waste, said Medical Director Deb Nalty.
“The whole point is not to have decaying old supplies in cabinets in all these different rooms,” she said.
On the first floor are additional rooms for X-ray, MRI, ultrasound and other tests.
And there are two conference rooms that, when not in use by hospital staff, will be available to the public.
At the top of the stairs to the second floor there is a “concierge desk” where patients can stop and ask for directions or get help planning follow-ups.
The whole idea is to make the experience as efficient and helpful as possible, said Nalty.
The Versus badge keeps staff from letting a patient languish in an exam room long. Once an exam is complete, the doctor can sit down right there, share results or view medical records on the swiveling computer screen, print out a prescription right in the room, and when the visit is complete, the doctor leaves and a “closer” comes in to ask if the patient has any questions and makes sure the patient understands all the instructions given.
Space is used so economically in the new building that fully 85 percent of the interior is functional for patient care.
“You won’t see high ceilings or spaces that open to the second floor,” said Richesin. “All the inches of space are used.”
The streamlined system and larger space means that the clinic will be able to see more patients than was possible in the old building across from Valley General, even without adding much staff.
There’s a lot that’s different and it’s all going to take a bit of getting used to, said Dr. Nalty. But she said it’s going to improve patient’s experiences.
“I’m really happy for my patients that they have a nice new place, and I think they will like it,” she said.
The open house will take place at the new facility on Tjerne Place Saturday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. The first 500 people to arrive will get a fleece blanket as a gift, and there will be a bouncy house, barbecue, giveaways and other activities.