We all know first impressions are important. Most research suggests that it only takes 7 to 30 seconds for people to form an impression of something. In fact, a very popular study by Princeton psychologists showed that people form impressions of a stranger in as little time as one-tenth of a second; the same study also demonstrated that longer exposure to something doesn’t significantly change the initial perception.
Impressions are formed just as quickly when people first enter a space, like a dental office. Patients will form an impression of you and your dental practice within a few seconds of walking in the door. It is important for your dental clinic to give off the impression that you are a skilled and caring dentist who takes pride in your work.
If patients see a dental office that is outdated and rundown, they often conclude that the dentist provides substandard care. They might wonder if the dentist cares so little about the way their waiting room looks, how much will they care about their patient’s well-being? It might also raise questions about the quality and condition of the dental equipment used in the practice.
A well-designed, up-to-date office is essential for patient acquisition and retention. A successful dental practice also needs an adequate number of clinical areas and support spaces in the right locations in order to maximize efficiency and create an effortless patient flow.
In this guide, we will look at how professional project management and an efficient design and construction process can help you build the best possible dental clinic and enhance the experience of your patients and your staff.
For many dentists, the question of location begins with a personal choice of in what town or neighborhood they want their new dental office to be. Then it becomes a matter of figuring out the demographics and available space in that area to find exactly where to locate a new dental practice.
Understanding the demographics of your geographic area is key to choosing your new location. This requires looking at a variety of factors. For example, let’s say you want to start a pediatric dental practice. You would want to look at factors such as where young families live in the area, where other pediatric dentists are located, where pediatricians are located, where schools are located, where daycares are located, and so on.
You’ll want to know what the population growth has been recently and what the projected growth is in a particular area to make sure there will be enough business for you. You might also want to look at data on average income, discretionary spending, and education level to get an idea of what kind of patient to expect.
You can get all of this information from demographic studies conducted by the US Census Bureau. Once you have identified potential buildings or properties or lease spaces, your team can determine how each property and location compare regarding the demographic data.
Another factor to look at is the dentist-to-population ratio. For a general dental practice, ideally speaking, there should be one dentist per every 1,200–1,600 people or more, depending on the area. If the demographic report says in a particular location there is one dentist per 700–800 people, that’s an extremely high concentration of dentists; on the other hand, if the report says there is only one dentist for every 2,500 people, that would indicate a need for more dentists.
Even if there is already a higher amount of dental offices in an area, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your office shouldn’t be there. However, it could mean that you’re going to have to work hard to set yourself apart. In a location not overcrowded with competitors, you are likely going to be more successful.
Another factor we often recommend dentists consider is the number of employers and organizations in the area. Being conveniently located close to large workplaces usually means more patients because they will be able to come to your office before or after work. In these situations, you might also want to find out what dental insurance the employers offer so you can get look into accepting those carriers and potentially getting more patients.
A dental office is a highly specialized space. Many elements specific to a dental practice are not found in any other type of building. There are special layout considerations that must be taken into account when developing the floor plan. The goal is an office design that functions at an optimal level of comfort, access, patient safety and privacy, and above all, efficiency.
It’s critical for you to hire only a highly experienced building contractor – like Corporeal Visions, Inc. We are a premier construction and design firm that works on a variety of commercial projects, however, our company specializes in building dental offices. Corporeal Visions has a demonstrable track record of successful dental office renovations and new constructions.
Hiring someone who has little or no experience in building dental offices or other healthcare facilities puts you at risk. The last thing you want to be doing is educating your dental office design/construction team on the spaces that are required for your office to function or the special codes and standards your healthcare practice needs to meet.
If your design firm doesn’t know what a sterilization room is or doesn’t understand the importance of the X-ray machine location, the plan will not have adequate space for the number of rooms and advanced technology necessary in a modern practice.
So, when you are trying to decide on a healthcare construction services and design firm, ask the project manager:
Also, ask if you can talk to past dental office construction project clients. It might be a good idea to personally check references by calling their past clients. Find out what their experience was like working with the firm. Did the design-build contractor understand the client’s vision? Did they meet the commercial construction deadlines? Were there a lot of change orders during the construction? Do they feel like they received quality services?
The reception or patient check-in/check-out area is the first thing your patients will see, so it needs special attention. You want to make an immediate good impression. When patients enter the building, it must be clear right away where they need to go – there shouldn’t be any confusion. The reception area needs to be visible and patients should be able to head straight to it without having to walk through the entire seating area.
If your practice will have ten or fewer treatment rooms, you can size the reception desk for just one or two people because there will most likely not be a big rush of people coming in all at once. Of course, if you have a larger office, you will need more help at the check-in area.
The check-out area also needs consideration. If the check-out area is not different from the check-in area, it can create a bottleneck in dental practices. Make sure your reception design accommodates at least two people to handle both patients checking in and patients checking out or paying bills.
You should try to place the seating area away from the reception area a bit in order to provide a separation between patients waiting and patients paying their bills. Beverage stations, coat racks, a half-wall, and other types of dividers can help create separation between the seating and the check-out area.
The look of your waiting area will depend on what you want and the space you have available. It should be a welcoming environment that matches the rest of the office’s appearance in terms of look and feel. Some doctors want a very sleek and modern interior, while others prefer a friendly and cozy space. No matter what style you prefer, the same basic considerations spelled out below apply.
Many doctors like to put in a beverage station for the convenience of the patients as well as staff members. You have the option to provide coffee, tea, hot and cold water, bottled water, and other drinks. A lot of doctors also like to have a flat-screen TV in the waiting room. A TV gives patients (and their families and friends) something to watch and also gives you an opportunity to run patient education videos, commercials, a list of your services, client reviews, and so on.
The restroom should be located somewhere near the patient waiting area. However, if you are moving into an existing space in a commercial property like a shopping center or healthcare facility, the restrooms might already be located in the common area of the building.
A convenient place for the public restrooms is behind the door leading into the clinical area. It would be by the reception area so your staff can keep an eye on things easier than if it’s located in the seating area. If an elderly person, handicapped patient, or a young child is using the restroom, your staff is nearby to provide assistance, if necessary.
The size of your personal office depends on your preferences. Most dentists don’t spend too much time in there, so they don’t necessarily need a large space. However, some doctors like to use their office more than others and want to display awards, diplomas, memorabilia, and other items so they want something bigger.
Most small dental practices don’t have a full-time office manager and don’t need an extra office. On the other hand, once a practice gets above 5 or so exam rooms and has multiple doctors, they need someone to handle administration, billing, staffing, etc. If there’s enough work for the practice to hire a dedicated office manager, some practices prefer to move that person out from the reception area and into a dedicated workspace.
Ideally, this space should overlook or be in close proximity to the reception area so the office manager can see people as they check in and out, and can be on hand to easily help with overflow, answer questions, or take patients to their office if they need to discuss anything in private. For bigger practices, a back office area for an insurance specialist, a bookkeeper, or a marketing person is something to consider including in your design plan.
Some offices choose to have a consultation room adjacent to the check-out area that can be used for both treatment consultations with the doctor as well as financial consultations with the office manager. If a patient is checking out and there’s an issue with their bill, instead of having a conversation at the reception desk, they can be guided to the consultation room for privacy behind a closed door.
One important factor in creating an efficient layout of your clinical area is organizing the treatment and exam rooms around a centrally located sterilization center. All the treatment rooms need to be supplied with sterilized tools for each patient. Once treatment is complete, the tools need to be returned to the room and sterilized so they can be put back into service for other procedures.
Due to this constant back and forth, the shorter the distance your team has to travel, the more efficient your practice can be. Your staff will visit this room more often than any other room in your office on any given day and, over the course of a day, saving a few steps here and there can really add up. If the sterilization area is not centrally located, a lot of time and energy is wasted.
We suggest placing the bulk supply closet immediately adjacent to the sterilization room, as again, your team will need to gather items from it many times throughout the day. Your imaging room should also be in a central location so you can easily take patients to it from the treatment area.
The typical treatment room in a general dental practice is 10’6” wide by 11’6” deep. The final dimensions of your treatment rooms will depend on the style and configuration of the dental cabinetry and equipment you select for your office. For example, if you choose an operatory configuration with no side cabinets, room widths can usually be reduced to 8’6” wide.
Openings into the treatment rooms might include doors, open doorways, or clear walking space between cabinetry. The primary opening must maintain 32” clear width in order to accommodate handicap accessibility. The secondary access to a treatment room doesn’t need to meet this standard. Some offices choose to provide doors on some (or all) of their treatment rooms, while others prefer just open spaces.
To adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, any doors must either be surface-mounted on the exterior of the room or recessed as pocket doors.
Just like the sterilization area is the heart of the treatment space, the mechanical room (where the dental compressor, dental vacuum, and sometimes HVAC systems are placed), is the heart of the infrastructure. Your design must find a way to accommodate this room.
If your office is in a leased space, one of the first things your architect needs to do is discover where the heating and air-conditioning units are located. If they are not on the building rooftop or can’t be located, floor space must be provided for them.
The size of the rooms depends on how large your practice is and how comfortable you want the space to be. Obviously, each treatment room needs to be large enough to accommodate a dental chair and the necessary cabinetry and equipment. It’s up to you if each room will be an enclosed space with a door or more open space.
The larger number of treatment rooms in your practice, the larger the sterilization and storage areas need to be. The storage area should be sized based on how busy the practice is and how many treatment rooms there are.
The size of the lab area depends on how much work you will do in-house versus how much will get sent to an outside laboratory. In some cases, the lab only needs 4–5 feet of countertop. Other labs easily need double or triple that to have enough room for all the equipment. Some dentists have a CEREC or an E4D machine for making veneers, onlays, crowns, and inlays. Some want the milling machine in the lab area, while others actually have the machine on display in a patient corridor.
Keep in mind that mistakes in sizing the spaces lead to areas that can’t grow with the practice. This is where inexperienced dental office contractors can badly miscalculate.
When it comes to a dental or medical office, interior design is extremely important for patient impression and employee satisfaction. This is an area where a designer without experience in dental office design can make many expensive, time-consuming mistakes. Working with an experienced firm, on the other hand, will help you get an attractive, personalized, and cost-effective design right from the beginning.
You need to work with your design team to choose interior design elements that work well for your office and reflect your personal preferences. Consider the following:
While making these decisions, you are going to want to factor in some combination of cost, appearance, hygiene, and durability. Sometimes, one factor ends up being more important than others. For example, let’s say cost is the main consideration for you. With this in mind, you may choose flooring for some parts of the office that is not as durable as it could be. Keeping the costs down may help get your project get off the ground, but once your office is profitable, you might want to update the flooring.
The best color choices for your office are whatever colors you want! Some pediatric dentists want brighter colors with animal or cartoon themes, while practices geared toward adults might want more of a “spa feel”. The question you need to ask is, what type of patients will be coming to your office?
Here at Corporeal Visions, our design team works with dentists and office managers to get a feel for their style preferences. From there, we develop a specific color palette. For many offices, the palette generally has 3–5 colors, with a few main colors and accent colors.
Wall finishes usually come down to a combination of vinyl wall covering and paint. Vinyl wall covering requires very little maintenance and is extremely durable, so it’s a popular choice in healthcare facilities. We also recommend using a semi-gloss paint finish as it is easy to wipe clean. Some dental offices want wall coverings for high-traffic areas, such as patient corridors, seating areas, and even treatment rooms. In other areas, it may make sense to opt for vinyl wall covering on the bottom portion of a wall and paint on top, divided by a chair rail.
The possibilities for cabinetry and countertops in the dental office are pretty much endless. Start to narrow down your choices by looking at cost, appearance, and how the colors fit into the overall color palette that you’ve chosen.
Take quartz countertops for example. They are just as hard as granite, but you can customize the look and make the countertop’s appearance more uniform. The benefit of quartz is that it is cheaper than granite and you have more control over the final appearance. If cost is a huge factor, you can consider even less expensive alternatives like laminate.
Also, consider having soft-close drawers and soft-close hinges in all the cabinetry of your office. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce noise in the office. Nobody likes to hear banging doors and drawers all day long!
In many cases, it’s best to purchase dental cabinetry from dental medical equipment suppliers for the treatment rooms and sterilization center of your office. These cabinets are really durable and are usually assembled in a factory with the strictest quality standards.
At Corporeal Visions, we work with dentists to create custom offices that give off an excellent first impression while making them more effective and efficient at treating their patients. If you are based in Northern Virginia, Maryland, or the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and are looking to build a new dental office or renovate an existing space, reach out to Corporeal Visions. We can guide you through the entire process of building your dental office, from the planning stage to the final walk-through. Call us at 703-909-4193 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our team members today!
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