New veterinary office’s viewing window takes mystery out of treatment


You take your dog or cat to the vet. The technician needs to draw some blood, clip some nails, check a temperature. Your animal is then taken to the mysterious back.

Your pet is returned to you minutes later. What just happened? You’ll never really know.

Or your dog needs a good dental cleaning or a minor surgery. That all happens out of view in that same mysterious back portion of the office.

A new vet office that opened this month is changing the notion that veterinarians’ offices should have a mysterious back. Firehouse Animal Health Center’s fifth Austin-area location, this one in Dripping Springs, is taking away the barrier between clients, their owners and “the back.” In its storefront location in the new Belterra Village shopping center, animals are seen in individual rooms with frosted-glass sliding doors. If they need to have lab work done or a surgery, they are taken to the back, but this back has a large viewing window that covers most of the wall.

Pets’ owners can watch what is happening through this window. “We like to be very, very open,” says Dr. Jed Rogers, co-founder of Firehouse Animal Health Center. When architect Mark Hafen, who specializes in designing veterinarian offices, came to him with this concept, it was about removing the barriers. “Let’s make the window work,” Rogers says. He thinks it’s the first veterinary office in the country to have such a window.

Some animals, though, might need to be taken to the back out of sight of their owners: the animal that feeds off their owners’ fear; the animal that feels the need to guard their owners from strange people; or the animal with injuries or undergoing a procedure not for the faint of heart. For those animals, the new Firehouse location has a column that blocks the view of one of its tables in the back.

The center also has a separate surgery room that is harder to see from the large window, though it is possible if you crane your neck and look through a couple of windows.

The hope is that the large window into the lab area will help increase communication between the owners and the medical staff. Doctors and vet techs can show owners what they are looking at in their microscopes or on the animal as they are treating it.

The new center is the first step in rethinking some other concepts. Right now, there’s a small entrance with a desk, but Rogers wonders what it would be like if owners checked in via iPad and were taken right to their room instead of waiting in the lobby.

Inside the exam rooms, the exam tables flip up out of the way for larger dogs to be examined on the floor. Vets or technicians getting down on their level tends to make animals more comfortable. Owners can sit with them on the floor or in a chair nearby.

The center also has a “cat-only space” where no dogs are allowed and special pheromones are pumped in to relax cats, which have a reputation of being difficult patients.

For dogs that are incredibly nervous or for animals that need to be euthanized, the center has a comfort room that looks like a living room. It has a separate exit to help owners leave after the loss of their pets without having to walk through a waiting room with other pets, or for skittish dogs to be able to come and go without seeing another animal.

Rogers says he wonders whether what’s next in veterinary office design is a center where all exam rooms are comfort rooms.



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