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    7 tips for designing your dental practice

    What you need to know to enhance the patient experience and improve the workflow at your office.

    A fire crackles in the stone fireplace. The large windows facing the trees that surround the building allow the waning natural light to fall across the cozy seating arranged around the hearth. Someone offers you coffee, tea or water and a magazine while you wait. You settle in and wait for them to call you in for your appointment. 

    You may think you’re at a spa, but surprisingly, you’re at the dentist’s office. The confusion between the two waiting rooms is no accident: Many dental professionals are designing their practices to encourage a more comfortable atmosphere for patients.

    The waiting area is a significant concern for practice design. However, many additional areas are crucial to think about as well. We spoke to a few different experts in the field about what to consider when designing or revamping your dental practice Here’s what they had to say.

    Related reading: Why your dental office design matters

    1. Why do you want to redesign?

    Matthew McLaughlin, territory manager for Midmark, believes the first area a dental professional must consider is why he or she wants to either design a new practice or revamp an existing one. Whether you do a minor remodel or a ground-up build, know that it’s a significant commitment of resources.

    “Are you trying to make more money? Are you stressed out because it is inefficient? Are you growing and booked out so far that you can’t see patients fast enough?

    Why you are trying to build a new office and what you are trying to accomplish with the new office is the most important thing to start with,” McLaughlin says.

    Ciarán Hynes, director of dental furniture product management at A-dec, believes the dental practice design should reflect the personality of the dentist.

    Considering how much time the doctor will spend in the practice, he or she will most likely want to include aspects of their personal interests. This translates back into practice design with types of furnishings, equipment and décor.

    “It’s really about the primary practitioner and the image they want to portray of themselves, both as a healthcare provider and an individual, by expressing their unique interests and personality. The building décor should reflect their personality, including hobbies and interests, particularly those that may stimulate conversations, reduce patient anxiety and, for the dentist, make them feel they are at home,” Hynes says.

    Dr. Jennifer Sanders is a private practice dentist serving families in rural Montana. She’s preparing to start a ground-up build, and she knows why she wants to build a new practice.  “We are in a 900-square-foot building that is old and sometimes the basement floods,” she says.

    Since the building has too many problems, Dr. Sanders bought the empty lot across the parking lot from her current practice to build a new one. The plan is for the new practice to go in on the other side of the parking lot so that she can stay open during construction.

    Dr. Sanders also wants more space for her growing practice. “Right now, we have three operatories. I want to build out with more space with potential for about eight to 10, but we will probably only finish five to begin with,” she says.

    2. Where should your practice be located?

    McLaughlin says that location is another early and significant consideration. However, many dentists aren’t prepared for all the details that go into selecting the best location for a practice and instead make decisions based on less critical factors.

    “Many dentists make the mistake of chasing the most popular areas without considering saturation and demographics. Or they purchase a piece of property that they love the look of without realizing they could never build the correct size building with the necessary parking on it.  There are many considerations for location, such as visibility, accessibility, light exposure, etc.” he says.

    Dental office designThe NYU College of Dentistry recommends in its online publication “Starting Your Dental Practice”1 that dentists consider several factors for their practice location, including:

    1. Personal preference: Explore the area to ensure that it’s a place you want live, work and worship. Consider whether it has the right elements for the life you picture for yourself and your family.

    2. Economic potential: The primary consideration with economic potential is whether the community needs another dentist. Many factors help you determine whether the area can support another dentist, from the local economy to the age of established dentists in the area to the employment potential of residents, and even the vacancy rates for the local real estate.

    3. Professional desirability: This area addresses whether the surrounding dental community fits with your practice philosophy. From licensing to staff availability to patient care values, the city should be a good fit for your practice goals.

    McLaughlin recommends that dental professionals attend a design seminar to help guide them through the process.

    More from the author: The dental prescriptions that are killing your patients

    “A lot of companies like Midmark host seminars dozens of times a year. It’s only 24 hours of your time and if you are going to invest this much money and energy in the project, and you are going to live with it for 10, 15, 20 years, why not invest 24 hours up front in learning everything from site selection to wall colors?” he asks.

    3. How much space do you need?

    The number of treatment rooms, patient accommodations, staff amenities, space limitations and cost per square foot are all vital considerations when deciding how much space your practice will require. Jennifer Rhode, Integrated Design Studio manager for Henry Schein, says the number of treatment rooms dictates the square footage of the practice to a certain extent. Integrated Design Studio budgets around 400-500 square feet per treatment room. So in a practice that wants four operatories, she and her team recommend a dentist have at least a 1,600- to 2,000-square-foot space. As square footage increases (3,000 plus), the overall square footage requirement decreases.

    Up next: Organizing the practice workflow

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