Office Environment

Create an Office that Engages the Patient’s Five Senses

By Maria Higgins, OD

August 3, 2016

I was the owner of Unique Optique in the vibrant downtown of Frederick, Md., for five years. One of the things I prided myself on was creating an office environment that was comfortable and engaging for patients, stimulating the patient’s five senses. I wanted to make sure my patients were more than just comfortable in my office, and that they found it an interesting and exciting place to be.

Here is how we engaged each of the five senses. Be sure to address each of these aspects to provide a pleasurable patient experience that results in more time spent browsing your optical, as well as repeat visits.

The variety of decor seen in the rooms of Dr. Higgins former practice, Unique Optique. Dr. Higgins says to offer a multi-chromatic, diverse visual experience to hold patients’ attention and interest while in your office.


Vision can be used in optometry office design by walking through your office with a critical eye. The outdoor space should be given as much attention as the indoor spaces. We had a beautiful wrought iron cafe table and chairs on the sidewalk, in case someone wanted to wait outside. The window displays should be designed to reflect the office’s current season, sale, anniversary, or other occasion.

The door should be clean, free of hand prints, and should have the doctor’s name, phone number and hours on it. The initial view when stepping inside the door should be visually pleasing. Clean-cut lines and a well-organized space feels comfortable.
The art on the walls should be professional photographs or original artwork, with special props given if it is a local artist. Mass produced art can be spotted easily and sets a generic, uncaring tone.

Hiring an interior designer goes a long way toward enhancing the visual aspects of the office.

All signs and advertisements around the office should be kept to a minimum and professionally designed by a graphic designer. The entire office should be impeccably clean and all fabric should be spot-free.

The frame displays should be kept full without gaps. All surfaces should be free of clutter. As much as possible, the staplers, tape, office supplies and cell phones, should be kept in a drawer. Have personalized pens accessible. Exam rooms should also be clean and well organized. Garbage cans should be out of sight, if possible.

At Unique Optique, we had a PhotoBooth for patients to use to document their frame choices and as a memento of their visit. A professionally designed wall hanging of the company culture statement hung in the optical. The exam rooms were colorfully painted, rather than the typical beige, and an in-office art gallery rotated artists every two months.

Unexpected touches like wavy, rather than straight, mirrors can give patients a new perspective, possibly opening them to a new style of eyewear and a new look.


Hearing is important in eyecare, as you want your patients to have a peaceful, relaxed feeling while they are in your office. Blindfold yourself and evaluate what you hear in your waiting room, your exam rooms and any other patient area.

Are the cabinets closing loudly? Is the radio playing ads for a competitor or a bladder leakage control ad? Is the staff talking too loudly? Are the traffic sounds outside too invasive?
What sounds do you hear, and how can you make them more pleasing? Unique Optique had walls that did not reach all the way to the tin ceiling and that created an unusual sound vortex in the exam rooms. I used a white noise machine to buffer the noise.

Indow Window makes custom, acoustic blocking inserts for windows. We played soft instrumental music without commercials through subscription Pandora with surround-sound office speakers. We used felt buffer pads for cabinet doors. We used fabric as window curtains on every window to absorb noise. The bathroom had doubly insulated walls and a door sweep to block sounds at the floor.


Ask people who are new to your office what it smells like, as you will be immune to it. The longer you spend in a place the less able you are to smell it. Obviously, you want your office to smell good. Scent links to memory stronger than any other sense, so make those memories good ones! We burned Mrs. Meyer’s Lavender Soy candles all day every day, which garnered the most comments on how good the office smelled. Trust me! (I have no financial interest in Mrs. Meyers, although they should pay me for how much I recommend their candles). We hadPoopouri spray in the bathroom should a patient need to use it. We also often had fresh flowers in the check-in area. Nothing smells better. The Poopouri spray also worked wonderfully on resolving that residual cloud from the stale patient who smelled like cigarettes and old urine.

We had a Keurig coffee machine available to patients, so the office often smelled like flavored coffee. We went as far as having cherry-scented dry erase markers for our wipe-off laminated signature page.

Beware of scent-oriented problems. Bad lunch smells (think scents of burrito mixed with vanilla coffee), bathroom smells (no explanation needed) and garbage smells (think hard-boiled egg shells) can offend. Remember to keep the happy scents in the same general family (for example, flowers and fruits). Lavender candles, lavender bathroom soap, lavender citrus bathroom spray, you understand.

The entryway and optical in Dr. Higgins’ former practice, Unique Optique. Dr. Higgins says an open layout with fanciful touches, like the small chandeliers hanging alongside the front door, can cue patients to settle into enjoying, and hopefully shopping, in your office.


Mmmmmm Hmmmmmm. Make sure your patients have a positive taste experience. We kept individually wrapped chocolates on the front desk, as chocolate keeps people happy and awake. We also kept mints everywhere for the added scent-sory experience of fresh-smelling breath for patients and staff alike.

We offered coffee, tea and sodas all day, and beer and wine after 3 p.m. Patients loved it almost too much, as we occasionally had patients stop in for a coffee refill on their way to work.


Keep surfaces in mind when designing or overhauling your office. Anything the patient can touch should be pleasurable. We had silk and velvet covered chairs, soft wool and shag rugs, brick walls, velvet dispensing trays and a soft leather exam chair. I even scoured the earth for the smoothest writing pens.


Make sure to take all five senses into account when designing your office. Your patients will appreciate your thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

Related ROB Articles

Seven Steps to Succeed with Independent-Brand Frames
Evaluate Your Office Environment from Your Patient’s Perspective

Storyboard the Patient Experience: Time Savings = Profit Gain

Maria Higgins, OD, is current owner ofThe Unique Technique. Sheformerly ownedThe Unique Optique in Frederick, Md.To contact






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