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    8 reasons operatory esthetics matter to your patients

    Why your design decisions have a much bigger impact than you might think.

    When designing your operatory, you probably consider many aspects. From your practice goals to the staff’s needs to your equipment footprint and even your future technology acquisitions, each factor is vital to your workflow and desired level of patient care. However, in the pursuit of efficiency and productivity, one area often overlooked is the design esthetic—and it can have repercussions for your patients’ experiences.

    Here are seven reasons that operatory esthetics matter to your patients.

    Reason 1: Our emotions influence our perception of a patient experience.

    Colin Shaw, founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, a global customer experience consultancy, explains that our brains use their conscious and subconscious experiences to look for clues to decide how we feel during the appointment. These clues could be colors of the walls, materials used for the furniture, cleanliness, organization styles (or lack thereof), and even sounds or smells. Each adds to the patient’s perception, either positive or negative.

    “Every dental practice has a conscious and subconscious experience,” Shaw explains, “but they aren’t always deliberate about them. Dentists don’t always realize how each of the moments in the appointment affects the patient’s feelings. How things look can be one of these overlooked moments.”

    Reason 2: We make judgments based on appearance all the time.

    You have heard you can’t judge a book by its cover, well-intentioned advice meant to discourage us from making judgments based on appearance. However, we all do it. How something looks influences our opinion of it on several levels. It’s true of restaurants, cars and, yes, dental operatories. We start assessing as soon as we enter the treatment room. It affects our perception of our patient experience, good or bad.

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    Crissy Treon, senior poduct manager at Midmark’s Dental Division, agrees that esthetic design for dental operatories is integral to presenting the proper atmosphere for your patient experience.

    “The look and feel of your practice is your brand. So, if you have worn chairs or delaminating cabinets, patients may associate the lack of maintenance to the quality of care they are receiving,” she says.

    Reason 3: Proper esthetics help distract patients struggling with anxious feelings.

    Many people coming to the dentist’s office feel stressed about the uncertainty of what is going to happen next, anxious feelings that compound upon entering the treatment room. Dental environment designs reflect a trend to reduce these uncomfortable feelings. The American Dental Association’s (ADA) resource, “Starting Your Dental Practice: A Complete Guide,” explains that more dental offices are designed with the patient in mind.  Many seem more like a spa than a dental office.

    Shaw supports this idea of designing with the patient in mind, adding that he is always surprised “that when I’m sitting in the dentist chair, very little is done to distract me.” Shaw recommends a patient-focused experience, which could include having TVs to watch or having the patient choose music to play during his or her appointment. He also suggests using lavender scent to reinforce the calming effect.

    “Calm surroundings and a pleasant environment are critical,” Shaw says. “Creating the environment that you’re not visiting the dentist is ideal.”

    Reason 4: What’s out of sight is out of a patient’s mind.

    There is a lot of equipment in a dental operatory. You see practical tools to treat patients efficiently. However, some patients see instruments they don’t understand and feel anxious. Clean lines without a lot of visible equipment can help put a patient’s mind at ease.

    “Dentistry tends to use gear,” John Flucke, DDS, Chief Technology Editor of DPR, says. “And we just keep adding equipment. It might not even be big stuff, it might be small, but we just keep adding things. We don’t think about it as much in the field, but when people come in and see all kinds of gear and they don’t know what it’s for, some of it looks a little scary.”

    When Dr. Flucke and his wife had their first child, their labor and delivery room resembled a nice hotel room rather than a medical space. However, the space transformed when it was time to deliver the baby, with equipment that came out of cabinets, closets and even the ceiling. He used the same concept when he designed his operatories.

    “One of the things I wanted was to be able to hide a lot of our stuff, so when people come in, they don’t see a lot of scary-looking equipment,” he says. “We try to keep it hidden.”

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    “When you hide some of the clinical items, things one might see in a doctor’s office, it puts a person so much more at ease,” Treon agrees.

    Up next: How lighting can affect patients' moods...


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