Dental Operatory Design – Three Most Important Elements You Shouldn’t Miss

Dental Operatory DesignWhether you’re thinking about your dental operatory design from scratch or renovating an existing one, think in term of its value or output.

What do you want to get out of the dental operatory?

What value does your operatory need to provide to help you move towards your goal?

Before thinking about design, start to breakdown the process by actually listing out what it is you want to get out of your dental treatment room.

Here’s what I did when I thought about my Dental Operatory Design:

The dental operatory should:

  1. Allow for efficiency by better workflow
  2. Improve Case Acceptance – In other words, it should help patients understand and say YES to your recommended treatment
  3. Provide a “wow” factor

Once you’ve made a list, then further break this down into HOW you can achieve each one.

Let’s take it a step further:

1) Efficiency by better workflow:

Using organization systems for quick turn-over of procedures

How do you quickly switch over from a restorative procedure to a root canal?

If you’re working on an anterior or a premolar restoration, and you realize the patient needs a root canal, do you bring the patient back at a different time? Or do you try to do the procedure the same day?

The answer is –  If possible and time allows, offer to do the treatment the SAME DAY!

Why? Well, your busy patient was finally able to take off from work for an hour, and now you need them to come back for a root canal.

It was hard enough for this patient to come in today, and it’ll be hard for them to come back in again. By quickly turning over the operatory from a restorative setup to an endo set up with proper systems in place, you avoid bringing patients back for something that could’ve been completed with a little extra effort.

How is that possible? – Use inexpensive mobile dental carts or mobile dental cabinets.

For mine, I use a cheap Ikea plastic cart. You could possibly get a little bit heavy duty one for a little bit more $, but this works for me.

Don’t order a cart from a dental supplier. You’re guaranteed to pay tons more if you take this route.

Dental Cart - Ikea Cart for Operatory Turnover
Ikea Cart – Drawers contain everything needed to turn over to an endo operatory

Let’s consider another scenario.

Same day procedures also apply to new patients as well. You’ve just finished examining the new patient and you’ve found a small occlusal pit on #19. After their prophy, offer the patient to have it done right away so they don’t need to come back for a separate visit.

Most of the time, patients will prefer this – especially when you tell the patient it only takes additional 15-20 minutes of their time.

Always try to provide same day treatment as long as patient is okay and your schedule really allows for it.  Follow this mantra, and you’ll keep your patients happy. Do more work while the patient is there.

When thinking of your dental operatory design ideas, same day dentistry should be the most important factor. Lot of times I hear doctors get caught up in thinking the dental operatory size is the main factor. Truth is, it’s not.

My rooms that I work out of are 9 x 11, but you can do everything I’m recommending here in a much small operatory.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the term “quadrant dentistry” during your dental school days. Well, it works. But you need to plan better during your initial treatment planning appointments.

It doesn’t work for all patients. And you certainly don’t want to offer it to the ones who no-show last minute.

To show you why same day treatment is important, consider what happens when you bring a patient back for their small restorative procedure:

Front desk greets and checks in the patient,

Assistant gets the chair ready for the procedure,

Doctor comes into the room – small chit-chat, reminds patient what’s going to happen. (Let’s face it, most of them forget what they’re coming back for.)

“Oh why am I getting this done again?” Now you may have to pull-up the saved intra-oral photo taken last time, and most likely, you’ll explain ONCE AGAIN why they need to have it done.

And after the procedure is done, patient getting up to rinse again.

Most of these steps were ALREADY done when the patient was here on the day of the exam.

When providing same day treatment, with quick anesthesia and additional 15-20 minutes, you can avoid patient going through these steps again!

This will give you a boost in production and keep the patient happy. The only time the patient comes back now is during their next hygiene visit.

So for new patients, using compartment systems, like the one below,

Composite Restoration Box  - On the right, is everything I need stored in the box. On the left, the whole box is kept in a drawer at 12'o clock position
Composite Restoration Box – On the right, is everything I need stored in the box. On the left, the whole box is kept in a drawer at the 12’o clock position

it takes my assistant 30 seconds to set up for a restorative procedure and all the instruments are only a hands reach away.

Using Dual Entry for your Dental Operatories:

If you’re an associate now, you’ll understand what it is like to work in those poorly designed single entry operatories. I know when I associated in those claustrophobic ops, if my assistant needed to leave the room, I would have to stop whatever I was doing, step away and make room for the assistant to leave the room.

Having dual entry ops solves this problem. When you’re taking advantage of the organizational compartments and mobile dental carts (endo, implants), it help to have the second entry into the operatory for the assistants to pull the carts in and out of the room.

2) Improve Case Presentation

Your dental operatory design should help the patient understand your recommended treatment, in turn, increase your case acceptance rate.

What are some ways you can design your ops to accomplish this?

a) Put a TV/Monitor on the ceiling:

Videos for patient education:  For example, when I’m doing my patient’s prophys, while they sit there with their mouth open, I let them know if there are alignment issues, spacing, crowding, etc.

Dental Operatory Ceiling Tv

My assistant then pulls up the invisalign video, which is then cast to the ceiling on TV via Google Chromecast.

I do not put any LONG videos at all – patient loses interest. I usually put their favorite movie/show on Netflix or Hulu for most treatments, including prophys.

During the design phase, you should let your architect/contractor know that you plan on putting a tv on the ceiling.  So they can include in their design plans for a wood block backing to support the ceiling mount and the monitor/tv, and also for electric panel to power the tv.

b) Put a TV/Monitor on the side wall

This can be on patient’s left or right – whichever is more convenient for you – doesn’t matter, just put up a tv/monitor on the wall. Here’s how I have it set up in my office:

Dental Operatory Patient Education Monitor

Once you’ve finished with your examination on a new patient, for example, as they’re sitting up, you can present your case (instead of them laying down).

Never treatment plan or present treatment while they’re laying down in the chair.

c) Utilize an Intra-oral camera ($ cheap) from eBay:

There’s a $36 dollar one. I bought two, one went out after 2 years. Other one is still going strong. I invested in a $150 one from ebay after that – MUCH better in quality and software works much better, so I’d recommend that one for sure.

Search for “New 2016 DARYOU 5MP intraoral Dental Camera USB Imaging. USA seller” – and you should get this search result below:

Inexpensive ebay Dental Intra-oral camera

Again, you need to let your contractor know you plan on putting a TV/monitor on side wall as well, so they can put a backing and necessary electrical drops.

3) The “Wow” factor:

If your dental operatory space allows, go for high ceiling.  It gives it a much more open feel. Feels less claustrophobic – anything to help the already anxious patients that we get in our office.

Skip the cuspidor: By doing this, one – you get more room all around the patient chair. Two – you save $$$ on plumbing especially for multiple ops. Three, you leave out the mess or possibility of your next patient seeing a blood stain in the cuspidor. (not sure about you, but this has happened many times from my rounds of associateships)

Dental Operatory - Skipping the Cuspidor

Patients usually ask “Where’s the spit thing” – and my response to them always is: “All the new offices are doing away with it due to hygiene issues, and plus you won’t spill on your self  when trying to spit while sitting and rinsing.

To deal with the no cuspidor situation, you should just have the extra high-vac suction option built into your delivery unit – talk to your supply company about this when making a purchasing decision.

I simply ask the patients to rinse when I’m done with everything I need to do. No complaints so far. In fact, they love the openness because there’s literally NOTHING around them surrounding the chair like you see in the picture above.

Put a TV on the ceiling: I’ve already mentioned this above for patient education. But, this one goes a long way for patient entertainment. You can combine this with a good pair of wireless noise cancelling headphones.

Ditch Cable and get a $8-9/month Netflix and/or Hulu subscription.  We don’t watch news in the operatory at all. If patient’s ask – we tell them “we don’t have cable, but I can put on your favorite show on Netflix!

Kids LOVE it – they’ll stay open and you can work without interruptions while their eyes are glued to their favorite cartoon.

In-office whitening: My assistant does all the zoom whitening in the office and puts on a movie for the patient while they sit there for the lengthy procedure.

Brighten up the room: Colors have a great effect on human behavior and emotion. The right colors can affect the moods of not only your patients, but your co-workers and employees.

Companies spend $$$ to test how different colors impacts prospective customers’ buying intentions. Big corporations work with the biggest interior design companies in the world to come up a color scheme to boost employee productivity. In the healthcare environment, it’s no different.

Use bright colors in your office when you can. I use green/blue because it goes with the name of my office. But you don’t have to associate colors with your name. If you have nice big windows in the operatory (like I do), let the sun in – it works wonders in lowering anxiety for patients.

Use of Bright Colors in a Dental Operatory

Minimize/eliminate the cabinetry on the side walls in the operatory: This will save you major $$$. Creates a clutter free environment and there will be more room. Even if it’s a small room, it won’t feel claustrophobic.

Closing Remarks:

Don’t overthink on design of your dental operatory and stick to the three concepts I’ve discussed. If you talk to an interior designer, there will be million ways you can optimize your operatory for productivity and entertainment. But you don’t have all the time in the world. If it’s in your budget, you can work with a design firm separately who will do the thinking for you.

By hitting the three concepts I’ve already mentioned above: efficiency, increased case acceptance, and the “wow” factor – you really can’t go wrong with the design of your operatory.

In the next post, I’ll get into the specifics of how the multiple TV/Monitor screens can be set up on the ceiling, on the left/right wall and behind you (the doctor) and the patient. I’ll go over the cabling, the mounts you should use and where you can buy it from at reasonable prices.

If you come up with other awesome dental operatory design ideas, feel free to share in the comments below!

Continue to tune in!