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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.


    Reason 5: Lighting affects the patient’s mood.

    A 2014 study out of the University of Toronto suggests that human emotions feel more intense when experienced under bright light. The findings published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that dimming the lights can promote rationality.

    Per the ADA guide, design experts tout lighting in the dental office as one of most revolutionary changes to treatment room design. Creative solutions for indirect lighting and natural light can produce a stress-free atmosphere.

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    Dr. Flucke's first practice was in a strip mall, so the reception area was the only place with windows. Dr. Flucke used to ask his patients for a weather report.

    “I never knew. It was like working in a mine,” he says.

    When Dr. Flucke built his new practice, he took advantage of natural light by placing large windows in his operatories, which patients appreciated. Not only do they provide a light and airy environment, but the windows in the operatory open.

    “When it’s 70 degrees outside, we kick the windows open, and you can hear birds chirping and the breeze comes through and it’s all nice,” he says.

    Reason 6: Colors can color patient perceptions of an experience.

    The colors you choose for your design can also affect a patient’s mood. While some experts claim certain colors are more relaxing than others, others argue that culture and individual experience influence color preferences. However, one truth about color is that use of it attracts the eye and creates a theme, helping patients make positive associations with the office.

    Treon explains that some dentists use color to promote their brand, put their patients at ease, or convey a treatment room that is warm and inviting instead of cold and clinical.

    “Some might go as far as making their cabinetry colors different in every operatory or making it the focal point of their office design,” she notes.

    The ADA’s guide suggests hiring a professional to help choose a color scheme, with a focus on the establishment of these themes and presenting the desired “office image.” Dr. Flucke hired an interior designer as part of the construction team when he built his office. He appreciated her suggestions for the office since his favorite color is black and he tends to favor dark tones. They opted for bright colors in his practice, choosing the cabinet color first and working off the cabinets for the other elements like walls, flooring and upholstery. He believes in hiring professionals who are specialists for this kind of work.

    “Find people that are good at what they do and let them do it. Just get out of their way,” he says.

    Treon sees the same trend in cabinetry styles and finishes that dentists choose. Midmark’s Artizan® Expression line has several options for materials, colors and finishes to accommodate changing tastes.

    “It doesn’t look cold and clinical. It looks like something you would see at a studio or a really nice home,” she says.

    Reason 7: People like their space.

    People like to have their personal space. The ADA recommends open designs, starting at the waiting room. They also recommend that all the treatment rooms are the same size and equipped the same, to prevent having a “preferred room,” which can cause problems in scheduling. However, the size of the operatory should also keep all the equipment within reach for the dentists and the assistant.

    Dr. Flucke’s first practice space was less than half of what he practices in now. He described a waiting room where people sit knee to knee with strangers. With his new practice, he could spread out and give patients a little breathing room. The larger office makes people feel comfortable.

    “Patients comment on the fact that it doesn’t feel crowded, that it’s very open,” Dr. Flucke explains. “It’s a lot more relaxing. It helps them deal with being in a dental environment, which most people aren’t real crazy about.”

    When designing the building, Dr. Flucke had the operatory chairs face the large windows that looked out over a small wooded area.

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    “They are not looking at a parking lot of a Krispy Kreme donut [store],” he laughs. “They are looking at something very peaceful. We have animals come up out of the woods, which is very nice. We have a whole bunch of bunnies lately, but we also had a family of foxes. We’ve seen some deer. Lots of stuff that adds to it.”

    Obviously, not everyone can build their practice from the ground up overlooking a wooded area and all its furry inhabitants. But taking advantage of the space you have is paramount to creating a good patient experience.

    Reason 8: People return because of their memory of their patient experience.

    Shaw published his sixth book, “The Intuitive Customer,” last fall about how psychology influences people’s buying decisions. One of the tenets he promotes is that people don’t return to your experience because of the experience they had; instead, they return because of the experience they remember they had. Therefore, creating the best possible memory is crucial for your practice.

    Memories of a patient experience form from the most intense emotional point and how the experience ended, a concept called the Peak-End Rule. Esthetic decisions, from general appearance to lighting and color choices, and even to what they don’t see (i.e. scary equipment hidden in the cabinet) all influence how these moments occur in their patient experience and the resulting memory from it.

    “Creating a positive memory requires managing the peak emotion of the experience, which is probably easy to identify in a dental surgery,” Shaw notes. “It also means managing how the experience ends, and sometimes, in an everyday experience, that can be the sum of a lot of little things. The key is to recognize what those little things are.”


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