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Why your dental office design matters


How good office design ­- even office design on a budget - can lead to more revenue.

Excellent office design is more than making everything look nice and new. Dental professionals can use office design to increase productivity and profitability. With a focus on functionality and workflow, dental office design can translate into more revenue for your bottom line. 

“Getting it right has so many benefits,” says Matthew McLaughlin, territory manager for Midmark. “Your ‘brand’ value goes up. Your office will be more efficient. You’ll be able to produce more dollars in the same amount of time with less stress.”

An efficient workflow frees you up to produce more

Jennifer Rhode, Integrated Design Studio manager for Henry Schein, says her team’s focus is on building a foundation of function and efficiency first and then fulfilling the practice’s wants and needs. 

“Before we build out all the little niches and details, we want to make sure we have the core function of the space that it is efficient for patient traffic and also staff flow,” she says. 

Ciarán Hynes, director of dental furniture product management at A-dec, and his team focus on patient throughput and workflow to minimize turnover time between patients. They design their equipment to facilitate intentional movement within the operatory, eliminating the need to go to different areas of the operatory that ultimately make room turnover more time-consuming. Once the patient leaves, staff can dispose of soiled materials on one side and then retrieve new barriers and supplies from a different part of the room with minimal back-and-forth movement.

“When the team is efficient with turnover time between patients, by the end of the day the time gained may add up to allow for an additional patient to be seen, which can represent gains in productivity and revenue for the practice,” Hynes explains.

Similarly, Hynes believes having designated consumable storage and instrument reprocessing areas centrally located in the practice affords long-term gains over the life of the practice. It improves the staff’s productivity by minimizing walking distances for those repetitive trips back and forth between operatories and supply areas of the practice.  

“Instead of retrieving instruments and consumables at opposite ends of the building to operatories, in a centrally-located design individual replenishment trips are shorter, quicker and more efficient” he says.

Related reading: 5 ways your office design can help (or hurt) your bottom line

Small budgets have big possibilities

For practices with a small budget, our experts have suggestions to help their money go far. McLaughlin says that practice owners shouldn’t assume they can’t afford to do something. Instead, he encourages dentists to get a dental office design professional and an equipment expert to consult. Together they can explore the possibilities for expanding the building or operatories in your practice.

“There are lots of partners out there that know that dental is different and know what’s possible,” he explains. 

Other areas to examine include small investments like carpet and paint, improving efficiency in the instrument processing center, or replacing equipment that’s more ergonomic than what’s on site currently. 

“If your body breaks down, then the game is over. A lot of dentists out there have had an injury and can’t practice and now all that training is just for naught,” McLaughlin says. 

Rhode says practices with small budgets should invest in their reception areas to make the best possible first impression. One significant improvement can be replacing the “wall of files” that used to be the backdrop of every practice reception area with a clean, modern look. 

“There are a few things we can do to that area to update their desks and give a modern feel to it, like putting a logo on the focal wall or keeping the business space tucked behind so that you don’t have a direct line of vision into it,” Rhode says.

Rhode also suggests bringing in the latest technology and preparing for the future. She recommends using forward thinking to plan, even if practice owners are considering selling the practice. “Make sure if you are selling that the next dentist coming in has the ability to expand their technology,” she says.  

Trending article: Four things to expect in your office redesign


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Hynes recommends making the most of your budget by choosing the most durable materials that can endure the demands of a dental practice over the long term. 

“In dentistry, furniture surfaces are subject to a significantly higher rigor of housekeeping, much more aggressive cleaners and much higher frequency of surface disinfection. It’s important to understand the difference between residential furniture and commercial/industrial materials to ensure the lifespan of the furniture matches that of your other equipment,” he says. 

For example, some furniture makers use melamine panels on the outer surfaces of their cabinets, which, while highly decorative, are very thin and may not withstand aggressive cleaners over time. High-pressure decorative laminate, by comparison, is comprised of multiple layers of phenolic resin sheets fused together into thick, durable sheets that withstand chemical exposure, abrasion, and repeated impact of objects like carts and stools bumping into it. 

Hynes also advises avoiding natural stone in dental offices because it’s porous and it can absorb fluids. It can also be subject to cracking along natural fissures that may be present. He prefers non-porous surfaces, like quartz, acrylic or stainless steel.

Trending article: 8 reasons operatory esthetics matter to your patients

More opportunities to deliver care

One change both McLaughlin and Rhode agree on is increasing the number of operatories that you have. They prefer four to six for one dental practice. 

“One of the difficult spots they get in is to buy a practice that has three operatories,” McLaughlin says. “Right out of the gate, there is a limit to what you can do. If you have a hygienist running out of one of them, now you are down to two. It’s a vicious cycle because you never get to a point where you are earning enough to invest in the practice.”

Rhode and her team want to ensure the treatment room is adequately sized. As long as there’s ample space, they design the equipment to fit into the space and make sure its placement promotes proper ergonomics. 

“Our team comes in at all different phases. Ideally, we want to come in early in the process to help them evaluate the space and create a foundation for function and efficiency,” Rhode explains.  

As a small business owner, McLaughlin feels that office design can help you present a practice that shows who you are and what your practice is trying to accomplish. When you build a brand well, it results in word-of-mouth advertising that brings patients in from all over, which is intrinsically and financially rewarding.

“There is something from a personal return standpoint of having a beautiful, well-run practice,” McLaughlin says. “Getting the financial returns that come with that is icing on the cake.”  

Trending article: How better dental office design can prolong your career

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