Mark Tholen, DDS, MBA
Dr. Mark Tholen is a leading expert on dental office design and a respected clinician and educator with more than 30 years of experience.
DPR spoke with Dr. Tholen to find out what clinician’s need to know to start the office design process.
Dr. Tholen’s book, “The Largest Marketing Tool of Your Career: A Guide to Designing the Elegant Dental or Medical Office,” is available at Amazon.com.
Why should you be concerned with the design of your office and the ergonomics of the clinical treatment room? Ergonomics is a great buzzword, but not many doctors are energized by it. That’s too bad.
Paying attention to designing a functional and aesthetic office while establishing an ergonomic environment in the operatory can greatly enhance your productivity and physical well-being. This can make you feel significantly more relaxed and refreshed at the end of the workday.
So how do you begin the process of creating this ideal office?
You start with the right questions, and pointing you to those questions is the purpose of this Dental Products Report E-Book.
We’re not going to tell you what type of office you should have. We will simply help you ask the right questions to discover the practice you WANT to have, then we will point you to the best resources for achieving your goal.
Your office will impact your efficiency and your enjoyment of clinical dentistry. But its design will also be the biggest marketing decision and investment you will ever make. Here are the questions you need to begin defining the project that will allow you to achieve your goals in all of these areas.
MANY TIMES when doctors are asked why they are undertaking a design project, the answer is: “I need more operatories.” But more operatories are merely a means to reach your ultimate goal.
It is critical that you are able to identify this ultimate goal—YOUR definition of success—in order to achieve a practice design that furthers that goal.
So what is your definition of success? Is it greater production, fewer direct patient care hours, mastery of a subspecialty, hiring an associate to alleviate the workload, increasing yoru income while maintaining your direct patient care hours?
These goals will dictate certain design objectives such as the number of operatories.
THE ACTUAL INITIATION of the project and its financing are often the two most prominent obstacles facing the doctor. But in determining the cost of the project, you must be able to describe the magnitude and character of the project.
A defined management style should be in place in your practice prior to the design of the office. Your management principles should answer questions such as:
Even though the project you are undertaking involves brick and mortar, furniture and art, technology and equipment, it is fundamentally an exercise in marketing. Patients, especially patients new to the practice, base their opinions on the level of care they will receive by assessing the quality of the office environment.
Regardless of your ability, your success does not depend on your dental diagnostic and treatment skills, but rather on your perceived competence as viewed from your patients’ perspective.
You have no choice about the fact that your office will speak to patients, but you do have the choice about what it will say.
If you accept that your office design is, among other things, a communication tool, then it should be the personification of your marketing program.
The Design of this reception area communicates fun while also speaking volume about the practice’s commitment to children.
Patients base their expectations of care on those items they can judge. Here are three rules to help ensure your patients are “hearing” what you are saying through your design.
After stating your expectations and goals, you will be able to gauge the amount of assistance you will require, the amount of work you will do on your own, the financial commitment you will make and how much time you are willing to commit.
Your involvement can range from total immersion in the project to completely delegating the design of the office to a staff member, spouse, or, more appropriately, designer or architect. Delegation is ideal for a doctor who wants to devote minimal time and/or effort to the process, but remember that you are the one practicing in the facility for, on average, the next 20 years.
No matter how involved you decide to be in the design process, there are four stages at which you MUST be involved. Request that the designer or architect confer directly with you at the following key decision points:
Defining the character of the practice includes establishing a wishlist of items/ equipment you want to employ and procedures/ events that you want to occur in your facility. Make certain this list is in writing and submitted to the architect.
Many architects will refer to this document as a design program questionnaire, and some will have one prepared for you to complete.
Without the design program, an architect can always design something, but this something may not coincide with your goals and dreams. If the design program is written as opposed to verbally communicated to an architect or designer, the architect or designer will have a much clearer vision as to what is to be accomplished.
More importantly, they will have your goals and dreams. You and the designer/architect become committed to your ideas by intentionally enumerating your thoughts on paper. This step of drafting your design desires is vital to the uniform and daily progress of the project.
There are two fundamental design criteria that should be foremost in your mind as you begin: Office function and office image. Function refers to how the office works; image refers to how your office feels. Both are critical.
A very simple formula that is critical to your success involves this equation: Functional dollars plus image dollars equals the degree of success you have in reaching your goals.
A common misconception is that a well appointed office costs a great deal more than a relatively plain, simple office. In fact, it is just plain costly to build any technologically driven diagnostic and therapeutic dental office.
You are going to make an investment in your professional office because you expect a return on an investment. If properly designed and constructed in an acceptable location your office will probably yield more financial return than any other investment you will make. Unfortunately, dental offices are far more costly to construct than almost any other type of office.
Why? First of all, there are many rooms confined to a relatively space. There is much more framing, sheet rock, outlets and labor. There is also extensive plumbing.
So before the appearance of the office is considered, you have already invested a considerable amount. To create a minimally acceptable appearance for the office, you will need to spend $10 to $15 per square foot. This typically represents about 10 percent to 15 percent of the total build out. But if you were to invest $25 to $30 per square foot, you will enjoy an office that portrays a strong statement concerning the quality of care.
The decision to build or redesign your dental practice is one of the most important decisions—and biggest investments—of your career. It will affect your efficiency, productivity, patient relations and your enjoyment of a prosperous and healthy dental career. Undertaking this project is a major endeavor. The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. Pelton & Crane offers a number of services designed to help you achieve the practice of your dreams.
Driven to Excellence is a two-day course designed to give you the tools you need to plan and execute your office design. During the event, you will learn how to select the right design partners, secure project financing and achieve the office that will support your practice’s growth. You’ll meet Dr. Tholen oneon-one to talk about your specific design, and you’ll receive a copy of Dr. Tholen’s book for future reference.
Click here to learn more or register.