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The Equipment Selection Process

Sept. 1, 2006
Today’s practice requires the dentist to be a leader. One of the keys to leadership in business is the development of a vision.

Today’s practice requires the dentist to be a leader. One of the keys to leadership in business is the development of a vision. A vision is a picture of the future as we would like it to be. It is a statement of “who we are” and “why we do what we do.” A vision captures the imagination, unleashes the creative energies, and harnesses the collective talents of all our people.

The most important asset of my practice is our team of warm, caring, empathetic, enthusiastic, optimistic, and significant people. By constantly updating our skills, we are able to be on the leading edge of technology. By providing the highest degree of care, kindness, and comfort, we enhance the quality of our clients’ lives as well as our own. Only by being profitable can we adequately compensate our people, invest in new technology, and innovate in our changing environment. We are committed to service! Our technological excellence has made us recognized leaders in dentistry and in the community we serve.

I have surrounded myself with a group of self-managed people who know where they are going, and that what they do makes a difference. We share common values and are committed to common goals.

Why should dentists make major changes to their practice environments? A more efficient treatment area could lead to time savings and an increase in productivity. You could do multiple restorations in the same amount of time that you were doing singles. A new dental chair might make your patients more comfortable during treatment. An operating system that is ergonomic could lower the stress in your life. Some of the new high-tech equipment could give you a marketing edge in your community. Patients expect comfortable, pleasant surroundings when they come to you for care.

These are just a few of the answers to the question of changing the office. There are obviously many more. But this article will deal with the process of selecting equipment for the new or reconditioned office. The selection of dental equipment has been likened to buying a car (new or used). It can be a difficult process if we do not prepare for it.

The first part of the process is the “why.” Why do you need a new office? What’s wrong with the old one? Can you add on to your present office? Do you want to improve your location? How does a new office impact your goals? That brings up another interesting question. Do you have goals for your future in dentistry? Are they written down? Have you shared them with anyone? Do you have an action plan to implement your goals?

You must have goals for your practice! Written goals are reached. Share your goals with a significant other, then share them with your office staff. Get the staff to buy in to the goals. If some of them can’t, maybe you need to make some changes. You probably already know who. Be sure that everyone in the office understands why you want this new office.

Next, get your staff together for a meeting away from the office. Schedule no patients that day. Turn off all cell phones (you can check them at breaks). Make it a casual dress day. Rent a suite or a conference room at a nice hotel. Have plenty of refreshments and have lunch catered. The purpose of this meeting is to give everyone the information about this new adventure. Get everyone enthused about the process and the project. You cannot do this alone.

Now is the time to have a brainstorming session. Get a book on how to brainstorm since there are effective sessions, and there are “bull” sessions that are a waste of time for everyone. You need the ideas of everyone in your office to make this project a success. Find out what each area (business office, hygiene, operatories, sterilization, storage, reception, etc.) of your office likes and dislikes. Start a wish list. How about a front deskless office? You may finish this in one session, but I doubt it. Keep at it until you have all the best ideas and how they will be used. When you start looking at equipment or technology, be sure to keep the team involved!

I have built six offices in my dental career - each one for a different reason. The first office was a typical small office that started with one chair, and eventually became three. The next was a group practice with 18 chairs in a circle. That was followed by a six-chair office in 1,200 square feet. Then I left that group and went solo with a six-chair office in 3,500 square feet. Next came a four-chair office in 1,600 square feet. Finally, I have my present office with one chair in 1,000 square feet. All of these offices are within a one-mile radius of each other. As you can see, I have been through the process a number of times. So I do feel qualified to give you, the reader, some advice on how to get through the process, and end up with the office of your dreams.

I would definitely start by taking a course from one of the recognized dental office design companies. Contact THE Design, Unthank Design Group, or Practice Design Group to find out when and where they are giving courses. For a nominal fee, you will get good information on how to proceed with your project. You may also want to hire one of these firms to help you with the entire process.

At many dental meetings, there are courses that deal with not only design but the financial side of the equation as well. I have attended courses sponsored by Matsco, and have been very pleased with the content and presenters.

Once everyone is on board with this project, and all of your ideas for the new office have been sorted and prioritized, it is time to start looking at the space you will need to make this happen. This is not the time to call your local dental supply distributor.

Group practice — part of the circle
Click here to enlarge image

If you are interested in a certain company’s equipment, then you should call the company and have the manufacturer’s representative come by your office to show you why the company’s equipment will solve all of your problems.

My second office was equipped with DentalEZ chairs and very little cabinetry in the treatment rooms. We used a split cart system to deliver dentistry. We liked many things about the system, but thought it could be improved for the new office. I had become friends with the local DentalEZ rep (his name was Bob) when the group built the 18-chair building. In the interim, he had become the company’s national sales manager. I called Bob and told him that I wanted to do a new six-chair office and needed his expertise. I arranged for a two-day visit.

We started in the treatment room with all my assistants and hygienist assembled. Bob asked us what we liked and disliked. Then we began with a number of “what ifs.” What if we could hang the doctor’s handpieces in a different place? This session went on and on. Finally, Bob began to show us some possibilities. If we did this, would it work? We did this the rest of the time. When Bob left, we basically had designed a new unit that DentalEZ eventually marketed as the Truth 615 unit.

The point of the story is that the major equipment companies have great salespeople who can provide much help in the process. You may ontact companies like A-dec, Pelton & Crane, Midmark, KaVo, and Belmont and ask to see their representatives. Some companies even will bring you to their manufacturing facilities to help you decide about buying their equipment. This was one of the best moves that I made.

In speaking across the country with many dentists who have appeared on the cover of Dental Economics®, I have found that most mention an architect, a dental office designer, a contractor, or a friend who helped them get through the process. I truly admire those of you who have been able to do it alone, or perhaps only with the help of a dental supply company. I definitely would not follow that path.

In designing my last two offices, I had the help of my son, Mike, who is an architect. He was a pleasure to work with in designing the plans and assuring us that everything was in the proper place. When Mike was in high school, he spent considerable time working at the group practice, learning why dentists do the things they do. As a result, he knew much about dentistry and was able to understand quickly what I wanted.

My wife, Sue, who worked in my office at the time, helped with the interior design of the office. She has a wonderful eye for details. Together, we decided on a Southwest theme. She decided that we should hire an interior design architect.

After several interviews with local people, we hired a friend of ours, Carl Williams, from Seattle, Wash. Yes, my office is in St. Louis, Mo., but Carl knew us well and knew of our desire to be different.

Carl came to St. Louis on a Friday evening. We arose early on Saturday morning and - after breakfast by the pool - Carl asked Sue and me to go inside. He said that when he was ready, he would call us. When we returned to the patio, he had set up a display of the entire office with all the window and wall treatments, doors, laminates for the cabinetry, reception room furniture, carpeting - including a custom-inlayed design for the reception area - wallpaper and paint colors, floor material for the treatment rooms, and artwork. Everything was done!

He coordinated this from Seattle. Everything was shipped to a storage area in St. Louis. Carl came to St. Louis when we moved into the office. The storage consignor brought everything to the office, and Carl told them exactly where to place it. He hung all the artwork and even selected the books for the bookshelf to match the color scheme of the office. It was the easiest and most beautiful office that we ever did.

To summarize, I suggest that you attend a dental office design course and proceed from there. And, for heaven’s sake, have fun doing it!

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