Improve Your Practice

As an integral part of any practice workplace, practice managers are often involved in setting up the practice and overseeing its layout to ensure it is both welcoming and efficient.

Creating the practice working environment

When looking at how your practice could be designed, use your “SCONE” to ensure you cover the key aspects:

  • Safety
  • Compliance
  • Operational
  • Natural flow
  • Efficiency

Layout of the surgery can be broken into five areas:

  • waiting area for patients.
  • administrative area (reception, secretarial, management, IT, hand-over room).
  • consulting, procedure and treatment rooms.
  • recreational area for staff (tea room, kitchen, meeting/training room)
  • the links between these areas.

Use Avant’s “Layout Checklist” to help review or plan your practice’s optimal layout.

It is imperative to consider how each of the areas comply with Work Heath and Safety requirements with regard to staff, patients and visitors.

You should also ensure that any new construction/addition or modifications comply with local council regulations.

Waiting area

Thewaiting area gives your patients their first impression of the practice, so it is important to ensure it reflects what your business is all about. You can actively promote your practice philosophy whilst patients are waiting by having posters, leaflets and notices readily available for them. Make sure you have your practice logo in a prominent area to help patients identify with your practice. It is important that the reception area and waiting room is as comfortable and welcoming as possible.

Consider having more than one waiting area so patients could move through the practice for different services e.g. procedures, pre-consultation services.

Comfort involves many aspects including:

  • waiting room size – ensure that it is an appropriate size to avoid patients feeling cramped.
  • comfortable and appropriate-sized chairs.
  • suitable lighting and heating/cooling.
  • magazine racks with current magazines.
  • wall-mounted children’s toys or children’s play area/play room (rather than boxes of toys which become scattered throughout the waiting room).
  • access – is the waiting area easy to access and visible from reception?.


The reception area is also part of the patient’s first impression. Not only is this to do with layout, but it is also reflected in the efficient, friendly and courteous way staff deal with patients. In terms of layout, it is crucial that patients are encouraged to come to the reception desk on arrival and prior to departure.

The reception area is a workplace and must provide a safe and comfortable environment for staff that spend all day there.

It is important that the waiting area can be viewed from reception. This is for a variety of reasons, most importantly, triage. (This can be via direct line of sight or perhaps video monitoring.)

Hand-over room

A hand-over room is a great asset if space allows. This provides a working area with a computer for practitioners or other staff to complete documentation etc. if other areas are all full. This is particularly useful in multi-practitioner practices with shared rooms.

Consulting rooms

The consulting rooms allow for a more personalised atmosphere, and practitioners may have preferences depending on the type of consultations, procedures and treatments they generally perform. Your rooms need to be set out in an efficient, safe but comfortable way.


Procedure and treatment rooms

Procedure and treatment rooms are separate from consulting rooms and equipped to deal with patients undergoing treatment. The links between the areas must be designed to avoid congestion and ensure safety, confidentiality and security. Note that in general practice, it is preferable if a treatment room can be situated close to the waiting area and reception so that nurses are immediately on hand in case of medical emergency.

Recreational area

A recreational area is important for staff breaks, keeping staff on site and giving them a much-needed opportunity to unwind and refresh. If space allows, a large kitchen area is ideal, with room for a table big enough to be used for meetings if there is no separate meeting/training room.

Disability access for patients with mobility issues

Disability access is a key issue for many medical practices. It is important when setting up any practice to ensure that the needs of patients with disabilities and limited mobility are taken into consideration. In general practice, disability access will be assessed as part of the accreditation process with AGPAL/QIP or GPA, however it is important for all practices to ensure they are suitably equipped to meet patient needs. You should review the layout and design of your practice with a view to addressing the following:

  • Ensure all design complies with appropriate national, state and local council regulations.
  • Is there ramp access into the building or between buildings that is wide enough for a wheelchair or walking frame and at a pitch that meets current standards (AS 1428)?
  • Are the doorways wide enough to allow for a wheelchair to pass through without difficulty (compliant with standards AS 1428)?
  • Do the toilet facilities have handrails and an emergency button?
  • Is there sufficient space in the waiting area and consultation rooms to allow for a wheelchair or walking frame to move freely?
  • It is also important that these facilities allow prams/pushers to be able to move without undue obstruction.

Improve your practice

  • Ensure functional separation between waiting area/reception. This can be in the form of a partition, pot plants, notice board and screen. It helps maintain confidentiality.
  • Have a spare room for phone calls, counselling, etc.
  • Have a room/area for distressed patients.
  • Allow auditory privacy in waiting area (e.g. soft background music and/or TV). Ensure a license is obtained from the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) if using a sound system in the waiting area. APRA provides information on obtaining licenses for playing music, TV and radio in public spaces.
  • Provide wi-fi access for patients.
  • Ensure toilets are clearly marked and easily accessible to patients.
  • Provide hand hygiene facilities for patients and visitors to the practice,
  • Provide designated play area for children if possible.
  • Ensure compliance with Work Health and Safety standards for staff and patients.
  • Display ‘No smoking’ signs.
  • Ensure the telephone system is capable of supporting the anticipated volume of incoming and outgoing calls.
  • Use messages on hold to promote the services of the practice and information for patients.
  • Always be prepared for the potential of having to deal with abusive or dangerous patients – ensure there are multiple access/exit points in the reception area, consulting rooms and treatment room.
  • Back-to-base and internal duress alarms should be installed in the reception area, consulting and treatment rooms.


Next page

  • What equipment does the practice need?
  • Equipment care and management
  • Improve your practice

This publication is proudly brought to you by Avant Mutual Group. The content was authored by Brett McPherson, reviewed by Colleen Sullivan and Avant Mutual Group.

This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2014.

IMPORTANT: Professional indemnity insurance products and Avant’s Practice Medical Indemnity Policy are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. The information provided here is general advice only. You should consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us. For full details including the terms, conditions, and exclusions that apply, please read and consider the policy wording and PDS, which is available at or by contacting us on 1800 128 268. Practices need to consider other forms of insurance including directors’ and officers’ liability, public and products liability, property and business interruption insurance, and workers compensation and you should contact your insurance broker for more information. Cover is subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy. Any advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the product is appropriate for you before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us.