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Technology Evangelist: Designing a dental practice for the best patient experience

Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2012-04-01
Issue 4

I’ve had some good times in dentistry, and in addition to the good times, I’ve also learned a lot. Of course I’ve learned a lot about dentistry, I mean a license to practice is really just a license to continue to learn, but I’ve also learned a lot about my patients and how to make things better for them.

I’ve had some good times in dentistry, and in addition to the good times, I’ve also learned a lot. Of course I’ve learned a lot about dentistry, I mean a license to practice is really just a license to continue to learn, but I’ve also learned a lot about my patients and how to make things better for them.

Early in my career I got one of the best pieces of advice ever. I had decided NOT to buy an intraoral camera after a demo because the price at that time was $15K. Fortunately for me, my father, who is not a dentist and has no experience in health care, happened to be at the demo. When he found out I was not planning to make the purchase his response was, “stop thinking like a dentist.”

I asked him what he meant by that, and his response was that as dentists we see teeth all the time and because of that we take it for granted. Our patients, never get to see teeth and consequently would benefit greatly from seeing their own teeth. It would help them understand the problems we needed to correct.

Needless to say, my dad was right. That was the first major purchase of my technology career, and I have never regretted it. However, perhaps the greatest lesson from that moment is I realized  there are key times when we need to step outside the “dental box” and see things from the patient’s perspective.

A place for my stuff
One of the best things I have ever done for my practice is ground up construction of my own building. I moved into the new facility a little more than 4 years ago, and I still get a sense of excitement every time I walk into the place.

You need to consider a lot of things when you’re making new office decisions. For me, one of the biggest decisions was how to incorporate all the technology that I currently had and also plan for as yet unknown technologies I would integrate in the future.

One of the things I really disliked about my original office was the layout and how it handled my technology integration. The old office was built in a strip mall and had been designed in the late 1980s. Needless to say there was no plan in place during the original construction to allow for computers, monitors and all the other gadgets I would add over the years.

So when I began the initial conceptualization of the new office one of my highest priorities was technology and how we would handle it. I spent a lot of time considering workflow and patient flow before I even began to look for an architect. I felt it was important to have as many of my ideas solidified as possible before bringing anyone else into the mix.

In the old office I was forced to “shoehorn” technology into a space that was never designed for it. There were wires running down the walls, monitors placed in inconvenient locations, and about 75% fewer outlets than we needed.

What patients see
When I sat down and began to really think about how I wanted the new space to look, I kept thinking back to the birth of my first child. I remember that when my wife and I arrived at the hospital we were quickly taken to a room that looked more like an upscale hotel room than a hospital room. It had a comforting and relaxing feel with very few medical items even visible.

However when it came time to deliver the baby, concealed panels opened in the walls and in the ceiling, and the room was quickly converted into a space designed specifically for delivering a baby.

When the new operatories were designed, this was a prime time to revisit my dad’s advice about not thinking like a dentist. We surround ourselves with so much dental equipment every day that we frequently forget it is even there in plain sight. However, our patients notice it right away.

One of my good friends, Dr. Paul Feuerstein, loves to tell the story of a time when he took a digital photograph of one of his patients while the man sat in the dental chair. The whole idea of the picture was to show the gentleman a picture of his full face while he smiled. Dr. Feuerstein wanted him to see himself the way others saw him. Yet, when he saw the picture, the first thing the  patient asked was, “What’s in the brown bottle?” The patient could see a small bottle of eugenol sitting on the counter in the back of the picture. It had been on the counter so long that neither doctor nor staff even noticed it anymore.

I remembered that story and the birthing suite as I planned the layout of the new operatories. My overall plan was to have the technology integrated into cabinetry so the treatment area looks soothing and inviting and yet the dental equipment could be accessed easily when it was needed.

To that end I explored several cabinetry options designed to hide both the technology and the dental equipment. I found there are a lot of options out there, and you really don’t have to look very far to find them. All of the well-known dental cabinetry manufacturers have embraced technology with a bear hug. If you’re looking to either remodel your office or to build from the ground up, I feel it behooves you to look at the less is more concept.

We get a lot of compliments on the fact that our office doesn’t really look like a dental office. I can thank my dad for helping me to see things from the patient’s perspective. Hopefully after reading this you can, too.

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