You've chosen the perfect location for your new dental practice. Now, it's time to set up your equipment, design your waiting room, and make sure that the reception area is suitable for your patients. The design of your practice is important for a number of reasons. You'll likely end up working within this design for a long time--after all, moving things around is a serious time investment, and when you're done seeing patients for the day, you and your staff will be ready to go home! You want a design that is functional and welcoming, taking into account both the needs of your staff and the needs of your patients.
Step One: Break It Down
When you start on your design, make sure you're familiar with the most important elements of your office design. You'll want to make sure that you focus on the key items of import during these early stages, when your budget is tight, and you want to be sure that you won't overspend. At the same time, you want to make sure your office has everything that it needs for you to give the best possible value to your patients. Your breakdown should include:
- Storage, including cabinets
- Patient spaces
- The reception area
Step Two: Consider Your Dreams and Plans
At this stage, when you're first opening your own practice, it's important to consider your future plans for your office. Are you planning to work alone in your new practice, or are you going to work alongside other dentists? What types of services do you plan to offer? Think through each aspect of your plans for the future. For example:
If you're planning to work with other dentists or have dual doctors, you're going to need more space than if you were going into practice alone. This includes a larger number of patient care rooms as well as extra room in your reception area for patients who are waiting.
If your plans include specific specialties, you'll need to divide your space accordingly. For example, orthodontics might take place in a different part of your facility than the area where you take care of redo patients.
Elderly patients may need more accommodations than younger patients. While you'll need to make sure that your office is compliant with ADA requirements (the Americans with Disabilities Act states that disabled patients must have equal access to your office), you'll need to prepare more fully for this if you intend to work primarily with elderly patients or those with disabilities.
Leave room for caregivers. This is particularly important if you intend to go into pediatric dentistry or to work with the elderly, both of whom may need to bring helpers with them.
Step Three: Evaluate Your Space
You've already chosen a dental practice location that you believe will fit your needs. Now, it's time to take a look at your space. How does it fit within your dreams and plans? What adaptations do you need to make--either to the office or to your plans--in order to fit with your eventual goals? Ask yourself questions like:
- Are there more rooms in this space than I will use when I first open my practice? If so, you might want to consider not equipping those rooms for the time being in order to focus on the areas of the practice that will be in use right off the bat.
- What adaptations will I need to make in order to make my office fully accessible? Consider concerns like wider doorways or ramp entrances for patients with wheelchairs as well as restroom access and other key issues.
- How much storage space is already in my office? If there's already cabinetry in place, can you make it work for your needs? In many cases, this can be far less expensive than ordering cabinets and other items specifically from dental suppliers.
Step Four: Prioritize Patient Comfort and Privacy
Many patients are highly uncomfortable when the time comes to visit the dentist. They may put off visits for as long as possible or find themselves struggling to calm down once the time comes to go back to the office. There are several strategies that can help you prioritize patient comfort and make your office more welcoming.
Consider how your office design lends itself to privacy. Make sure that patients who are recovering from surgery or other potentially traumatic procedures have space to themselves, where they can be relatively confident that other patients can neither see nor hear them. This can also help maintain patient confidentiality.
Bring in natural light. Where possible, take advantage of natural light. Open up the blinds, place patients across from windows, and let them soak in the advantages of sunlight to help keep them calm during their stay.
Use soothing colors and artwork geared toward relaxation. Many medical and dental practices are embracing color in their designs--with good reason. Soothing colors can help calm your patients and help them feel more at ease in the office. Select your artwork with the same intent: while it's okay to show some personality (after all, this is your office; you can make it look like you!), it should be geared toward relaxing your patients.
Consider the interests of your patients. Generic, traditional artwork might appeal more to seniors, while a pediatric practice might choose to highlight superheroes, animals, or familiar characters in an effort to put kids at ease.
Allow for privacy in the waiting area. Make sure that friends and family have room to interact with one another while still allowing patients to maintain some separation. It's always better to have a few too many seating options in your waiting area than it is to have too few places for people to sit, leaving them crammed in and cramped.
Step Five: Consider Your Needs
Your patients' needs are important, but you also need to be sure that you and your staff will be comfortable as you move around your practice. Consider such important elements as:
- The amount of storage you really need. Do you need large cabinets or storage closets? Do you prefer the idea of using rolling carts to bring the tools you need to each patient?
- How much room does your receptionist need? In the early days, one person (and therefore one desk) may be enough, but as your practice grows, keep in mind the potential need for expansion. The average person needs approximately 100 square feet of room in order to operate comfortably.
- Providing space for your staff. You want to have a space away from the patient care areas where your staff can go to relax, take their breaks, and even eat. Make sure this area is large enough to be comfortable based on the number of employees you expect to have in your practice.
- The size of your treatment rooms. Ideally, you'll want at least 12' x 9' in order to move through the room comfortably. This will also allow plenty of room for disabled access.
- Where your storage should be located. Stored items should be in a place that is convenient for you to access, rather than being a struggle.
Designing your own dental practice for the first time is a heady feeling. This is your chance to do things the way you want to do them, rather than being stuck with a practice designed by someone else. Carefully examining all of the important elements of your practice will make it easier to create a design that you'll love.
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