A Journey To Excellence In Clinical Practice & Interior Design

by Peter Barry, CMC, RRDH; Darcie Galbraith, BA, Interior Design Coach

Dentistry is a special and exciting career for people interested in medicine, oral health, and helping others. Although becoming a dentist requires many years of education, our challenging yet rewarding field can make the effort well worth it. The Learning Curve for graduates transitioning into private practice is steep; and very rewarding for those who prepare themselves for how to thrive in a profession that is under rapid transformation. After four challenging years of dental school, young graduates anxiously await the arrival of their license while contemplating the road ahead. Where to practice? What setting to practice in? Associateship? Buy or Build? Specialization? It’s an exciting time that is filled with many choices and opportunities. A seeming life time will have been spent to reach this point, with a big investment of money, time and effort along the way. Similarly, there are many challenges that face the well-established dental practice such as clinical skill development opportunities, team building and employment challenges, insurance dependence, case acceptance and financial barriers, as well as the rapid expansion of digital technology into all facets of what we do in day to day practice and of course the style décor and flow requirements of the physical spaces we function in daily.

All these challenges are really opportunities that are driven by an underlying professional desire to provide better patient care to the changing face of the modern healthcare consumer who generally tends to want things faster, better, cheaper, smarter and more conveniently and most importantly served in an environment of greater comfort and customer care. In light of this; regardless of the phase or stage of career you are in; your future is filled with opportunities that will be impacted and realized based on two primary factors. Firstly’ how you strategically design your “systems & team” and secondly but equally importantly in today’s consumer driven market place; based on how you strategically design the functional flow and decorative feel or ambience of the physical space in which you function daily to serve your customers/patients. Your physical space influences your performance and results similarly to well-designed running shoe that brings out the best in an athlete when it fits properly and feels comfortable (and looks the part).

dental office interior design

It is important to remember that patients cannot easily assess the quality of your work, in light of this they tend to initially evaluate your clinical skills based on the experience and overall feeling they have in your physical space and brand atmosphere you create in it. Your office is also your day-to-day living environment. It affects not only how your patients feel, it will also affect how you feel while you serve them. Visual space design that flows effectively while feeling warm and comforting to your patients and team will empower your practice while making the quality of your clinical care stand out as special in the eyes of the people you serve. Simply put; a great design must accentuate a positive ambience! For example, think of one of your favorite fine dining restaurants for a moment, they may have amazing culinary skills and beautiful presentation on the plates but what completes the overall pleasure and enjoyment is the overall atmosphere in which the meals are served. Similarly, in dentistry we must consider things such as ambient lighting, tasteful décor as well as the physical design of the space for functional flow. It must also be spacious enough to allow for ample hidden storage while preventing clutter. These are but a few factors that are immediately palpable that influence your patient’s overall perception of your work and their overall experience in your presence.

Today; customer experience minded offices are looking well beyond the four basic walls needed in a dental surgery. They are looking to design an architecture that is functional and efficient for dentists and staff, while also being welcoming and relaxing even inspiring for patients. Your dental office design should reflect your individual style, as well as factoring in the demographics of your patient base while encompassing your values and vision you wish to convey. The layout of your practice can have an enormous effect on the patient as well as the smooth flow of daily activities. Whether you’re starting a practice from scratch or considering a remodel of any size, make “a patient-friendly layout” a priority. Ideally you want patients to arrive into a well-lit open concept fresh up-to-date reception where the team is close enough to give a welcoming reception while not being situated to resemble guards or gate keepers. From this point you want patients to move through the practice in a flowing manner.

dental office interior design

The task of opening a new dental office or redesigning an existing one can be highly rewarding when approached strategically. That’s why it is important to involve your design team of experts early on in the process (Interior Design Expertise Contractor/Equipment & Cabinetry) etc. Bring the design team together into one room for discussion. Set clear time lines as well as phases to help to make the project flow more smoothly. Discuss the many details that should be planned for; such as…Is there adequate usable area for my present and expanding needs? What dental equipment will best suit my practice? What are my style and décor tastes? What are the health and safety requirements and Building Code regulations that I need to respect? How can I create a positive experience for my patients? What will distinguish my practice from others? And again, don’t forget to plan for adequate storage. When an office space is tight with inadequate storage considerations even the most modern eloquent environment will begin to lose its opulent appeal under the expanding encroachment of storage items into main work areas and patient flow traffic areas.

There is no doubt that everyone wants to succeed and thrive in their practice. In our experience with team development and practice design goals; there are two ways to develop the experience needed to thrive and succeed. One way is the school of hard knocks where you grind your way to success taking your bumps and bruises along the way; which forms powerful memories that makes you wiser in similar circumstances going forward. The other way is by examining and drawing from the experiences of others. In light of this we invited Dr. Mark Lin to discuss his eight-week complete transformation and redesign of his practice into an expanded state-of-the-art Prosthodontic Specialty Practice. He did this while concurrently…practicing dentistry, running a highly respected Basic and Advanced Dentistry Implant Residency Training program, teaching at the University of Toronto, providing expert opinions for RCDSO cases, writing articles, mentoring peers and being a family man; in the same breath. We asked him to share a little bit about the journey of his practice and most recent renovation project. His answers are shortened to extract their core meaning and intent…

dental office interior design

What attracted you to the field of dentistry?
My parents were both physicians in China which inspired me to become interested in healthcare as a profession. I chose dentistry because it’s a respected profession that enables you to help people while giving you greater control over your time and how you choose to practice. I always wanted to be in control of my destiny by working for myself in a special place that is designed in a way that represents my values and clinical interests as well as my desire to serve society while enjoying a balanced lifestyle along the way.

What is unique about your practice and your values & interests?
Each practice is unique and special based on the culture of the team dynamic, and based on the patients you attract and the strategic design of the environment you create and the type of dentistry you choose to provide in that environment. I have always had an interest in implant dentistry. From early on in my career we evolved all aspects of our practice in the direction of this goal. I also find deep pleasure in giving back to my community and profession in various ways. I believe that in life it is important to help others by being able to give away things we cherish such as time, money and expertise.

dental office interior design

What inspired you to redesign and build your new office?
We outgrew our old space. The number of patients and type of dentistry being delivered was evolving and expanding rapidly. Our team needed more room to function in a more strategically designed space based on our need for flow and to support the more specialized dental care we are providing. Our existing four treatment rooms, one reception and one consultation room that doubled as my office were no longer supporting our growth and type of dentistry being practiced. I also wanted to update the look, feel and flow of the practice with more operatories and a state-of-the-art surgical suite in a modern fresh overall design that fully reflects the type and quality of work we provide. It was important to me that we maintain a professional medical look while at the same time achieving a warm spacious environment that projects an organized modern and comfortable atmosphere. I also wanted to have a functional separation between clinical and business areas with more office space, more treatment rooms and a well-positioned in-house digital lab. Ultimately; in the new space I wanted the patients to feel more comfortable and inspired and my entire team to be more empowered and effective. It was also important to achieve all this with a tasteful balance between cost and glitter. I didn’t want patients to feel that their treatment fees were paying for the cost of a golden grand piano in the lobby.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a practice design modification – large or small.
Regardless of the size of your practice or amount of renovations required, start by getting clear on your needs, desires and opportunities. What changes are required. What do you hope to gain, achieve or do in the new space clinically and as a business? What are your space requirements? How much time and money do you have to work with. Have a budget in mind but be aware that these costs usually change once the renovation is begun based on your changing desires and unexpected challenges or opportunities along the way. My biggest advice would to surround yourself with experts to guide you in turning your vision into a productive and happy reality with minimal unexpected challenges and delays along the way. By making a good plan and involving the appropriate experts early on in the process, things will flow more smoothly and you can soon find yourself happier and more effective in a well-designed new space that is not only functional but that also matches your tastes and image you wish to convey. I also strongly suggest that you or someone closely involved in the details of the overall project keep your finger on the pulse of progress by briefly visiting the site each day to ensure that things are progressing well and according to plan.

What Experts did you involve?
We had a short 8wk time line to work with. I wanted to avoid any costly delays that would be caused by not re-opening on time. I invested in involving the appropriate industry experts to help me achieve the results I wanted; and on time! One of my first priorities was to select a project team who are committed to the successful outcome of my project, and who could be relied upon to collaborate between themselves to make the process go smoothly. The main players consisted of Darcie Galbraith (Interior Design Coach & Project Coordinator) of Bella Vita Designs, TriPar Improvements for construction and Sinclair Dental for cabinetry sterilization and operatory equipment. Prior to commencement we brought everyone into one room for a Strategic Design Planning meeting. We outlined the intended outcome and everyone had an opportunity to discuss time lines and to coordinate the details between each trade’s responsibilities. In this capacity my interior designer also took on a project management role of coordinating the details between the different trades thereby freeing up some of my time to be able to concurrently focus on the running of my clinical practice, which was temporarily operating out of a rented space down the street.

How does technology play a role in your practice?
We have digital technology incorporated throughout our practice…from electronic charting, digital anesthesia delivery, dynamic guided surgery, digital lab, hard and soft tissue Lasers, 3D imaging/CADCAM technology and more. With infection control in mind we also installed hands free motion detection sensors throughout the office; controlling – glass sliding doors, trash cans, soap dispenser, faucets/air dryers and more.

Thank you for your insights Dr. Lin. The importance of a well-designed physical practice is clearly established. As you progress in your career you will reach a point where its time to make changes or modifications to your existing space to meet the evolving needs of your office. When this time comes remember to involve the appropriate experts early on in the process. The truth is there are literally thousands of decisions, purchases, and tasks that go into constructing and/or designing a single space. Making the best use of a designer and design team prevents you from spending incalculable hours running around from showroom to showroom and store to store, as well as scouring the internet for the right products and finishes. A designer will also prevent you from making poor design decisions and will keep your project from leaking money due to poor planning and delays. “Ultimately, a designer can save you money by making sure that you have planned sufficiently and that you have your materials selected and ordered to be on site when they are needed.” The idea that” time is money” is so true of interior design projects. Making sure someone is constantly managing your orders and tracking the status of every item in the order is also vital to expediting your project. This seemingly small (but actually huge) detail will help your contractor and subcontractors to stay on schedule as well. Minimal delays on your project will mean that you will be functioning happily and productively in your new space in a timely manner. A space that that fully represents your tastes, values and functional needs while at the same time being an attractive warm and comfortable environment for your patients to have high quality dental healthcare delivered.

About The Author

Peter BarryPeter Barry is a highly sought-after Transformational Trainer. For more than 18 years, he has empowered dental teams to achieve extraordinary growth, higher income, and exceptional quality of life. He is the founder of “Practice Mastery” a practice development company that serves the growth & development needs of your practice. He provides customized team and one-on-one “Success Coaching” to Dental professionals across N. America. FMI peter@practicemastery.com 416-568-5456 www.practicemastery.com



Darcie GalbraithDarcie Galbraith, BA, Interior Design Coach Darcie Galbraith is an interior design coach & project coordinator specializing in the field of dentistry. She can be reached at bellavitadesigns.ca/905-716-8528.

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