Your design plan

March 21, 2012

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting from scratch or re-doing an existing office, when you’re ready to add operatory furniture and cabinetry to your practice, you need a plan.

It doesn’t matter if you’re starting from scratch or re-doing an existing office, when you’re ready to add operatory furniture and cabinetry to your practice, you need a plan.

You need to think about everything from the types of hinges you’re going to use to the colors your cabinets should be. This is a project with hundreds of options and decisions to make. It’s a confusing time, yet a rewarding time knowing you’re designing a space that will make you, your team and your patients happy. And you don’t have to do it alone. There are experts like Patrick Crowley, author of Dental Office Design: 1001 Practical Tips for Creating Your Ideal Dental Office, who can help. He’s worked with dentists for 25 years, designing and building more than 650 dental offices nationwide. Here, he offers advice to help get you to that office you’ve always wanted.

Q: What do you talk about with clients at the beginning of the process? 
A: We go through a series of questions, starting with the delivery system, who’s using the computer and what type of equipment will be in the room. This is the time we can make a large impact on the practice and can design the room exactly how the dentist wants to use the room. We ask them what equipment they’re going to store to find out what power requirements they’ll need inside the cabinetry. We’d rather not have the client say ‘Oh by the way I need xyz’ at the end because that’s when the budget can get out of whack.

We also look at the budget for cabinetry. It can be expensive, so we need to find out what best fits the needs for the doctor and the practice. We also determine how much they need. Do they want them on the doctor’s side, on the assistant’s side, and do they need cabinetry at 12 o’clock or the rear position? And then we start looking at the sink location. This gives us a great framework to design the cabinetry. It really needs to be designed to the inch. We want all treatment rooms designed equally for maximum efficiency. 

Q: What are some common recommendations that you make to clients? 
A: One thing we tell all of our clients is to avoid cabinets purchased from local lumber yards. They are not designed for the daily wear and tear of a dental office. They’re also not the correct height or depth for the operator, and it’s important for cabinets to match the equipment and be designed for the treatment room’s height and depth. We also want to make sure we use quality hinges. The cabinets are going to be opened and closed continually throughout the day. We tell our clients to avoid touch latch doors.

They’re always the largest source of complaints in service calls.
If the budget allows, we also recommend solid surface counter tops such as Corian. Corian gives you a seamless sink and backsplash, which means it’s easy to clean. And don’t use a really dark color because it will show scratches.

There are so many small details to take into consideration. We like to use under cabinet lighting when we can. Everyone should install through the counter waste drops. If there’s equipment in the cabinetry we recommend a pullout shelf for easy access. If there’s a computer in the cabinetry we want to make sure it’s well ventilated. We like to use glass or Plexiglas panels in the door and we want to make sure cabinets have adjustable shelving inside. We want as much flexibility as possible.

Q: What does this mean for ergonomics?   
A: We design the room for maximum production and efficiency, which means we don’t want cabinetry too far away from the doctor. He shouldn’t have to stop, roll in the chair and reach for supplies. That’s why pull out shelves work so well, or movable tops for work surfaces for the assistant. We want to make sure it works ergonomically for the doctor and try to keep everything within arm’s length.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake doctors make during this process?
A: Following a false budget based on a well-intentioned but inaccurate budget number from a real estate broker, dental supply company rep, an inexperienced designer or builder, even from a fellow dentist. The other one is working with incomplete drawings and incomplete specifications.

Q: How much time should doctors put into the planning process? 
A: The planning process should take longer than the construction process. It should be all encompassing. Decisions need to be made prior to construction, because that’s how you get the best construction process.

Visit dentalofficedesignbook.com for more tips. For a Web Exclusive on common design mistakes, as well as an exclusive Q&A with Pelton & Crane, visit dentalproductsreport.com.