Practice Made Perfect: “More Than Your Office … It’s Your Identity”
For many of us, “the office” is a home away from home: the place the family knows they can find us almost any time of day; the place where we evolve and grow as professionals. For our patients, the office is much more: it is a place that they come to with serious concerns about their mental and physical well-being; a place to which they bring past histories and dental memories. The esthetic dental office is a reflection of ourselves as practitioners and as people.
In choosing an office environment, there are several questions that, if asked sufficiently early, can help you achieve the office you want and avoid the pitfalls many practitioners have encountered.
- Can your office (or your proposed office) pass an esthetic inspection? This exercise can be conducted by you and your office staff by means of a “walk-through.” Analyze the overall feeling you get when walking in the door. Prepare a checklist that includes factors such as warmth of ambiance, spirit of welcome, color, air temperature, music and other sounds, degree of attentiveness by staff, and appearance of decor and furnishings.
- Does the office convey the image you seek to project? First, it is essential to know what that image is. In many esthetic dental offices we visit, the emphasis is on comfort and ambiance that go well beyond those in a traditional health care setting. For good reason: as esthetic dentists, we compete with “luxuries” such as cars, vacations, artwork, and travel for our patient’s discretionary dollar.
- How can you avoid ending up with the “wrong” office, one that fails to meet both your needs and those of your patients and staff? The key factor, as the author has learned from painful experience, is to invest the necessary time, energy, and attention to detail. Although you may be using the most experienced professionals, it is you who will be left in the office when the work is complete and the designers and consultants have moved on to the next project. Preoccupation with patients and office affairs should not lead you to compromise the time you devote to this important task. If you do select an assistant or surrogate, be sure this person is “in sync” with your wishes and communicates regularly with you.
- Do your plans meet both the mental and physical needs of your patients? Besides physical comfort, accessibility, noise level, and visual appeal of color and furnishings, essential concerns are privacy, confidentiality, and the “fear factor.” These should all be addressed in the planning stages.
- Have you addressed the special needs of your market segment? Many choices regarding your office will depend on the demographics of your patient population.
Related to these concerns is the selection of physical space. Garrett Ludwig (President of Diversified Design Technologies, Inc., of Hartford, Connecticut, and a dental office design specialist for over 20 years) says that he has seen too many mistakes and oversights in the selection of professional office space, and suggests that “the simplest things, the things that we know best, are often the hardest to see.” He stresses the importance of an objective view in a practice analysis and suggests that professional assistance be contracted.
Ludwig recommends the following as basic, essential considerations of office selection and planning:
- Practice Analysis: This becomes an analysis of your own personality and habits. Are you receptive to new techniques, or do you prefer the time-honored classics? Do you perceive your office solely as a place to perform your services, or do you recognize the impact that its image has on your patients and staff? The more you know about your approach to dentistry, the better you will be able to make consistent decisions about purchasing vs. renting, space planning, equipment … and accommodations for staffing and patients.
- Demographic Analysis: This includes:
- Accessibility: For reasons ranging from code requirements to passive marketing, accessibility to the office is paramount to patient acceptance. The office should be safe and a reasonable distance from homes and businesses, easy to locate, equipped with ample parking, and free of physical barriers.
- Community Identification: Check demographic census data relative to real estate, schools, and businesses. Of equal importance to the statistics is your professional ability to interact positively with the community.
- Professional Competition: The existence of a practice in your specialty does not preclude its success; nor does the absence of your specialty ensure it. Critical analysis is key in this step.
- Referral Base: This step in the demographic analysis must be carefully weighed.
- Quantity of Space: Ludwig suggests use of an equation to determine square footage, beyond the simple room requirements. This must include consideration for growth; clinical, administrative, and utility storage; wall thickness; and access (corridor or open) space.
- Feasibility of Build-Out: Review a floor plan of the space, or otherwise assess potential inconveniences such as load-bearing partitions, utility chases, and existing window placements.
- Practicality of Build-Out: While almost anything can be done to develop physical space, cost must be considered. Analyze the value of each change to characterize it as an investment or an expense.
The type of office you select – the location, architecture, decor, and dimensions – exerts a strong influence on your patients and their comfort with you and the services you provide. Patient confidence is not based on reputation alone. We, as dentists, must fulfill it in every aspect of our practice.
As you walk out of your office this evening, take a good look around. Try to see what the patient sees: the feeling, the image, the statement you make. After all, it’s much more than an office.