by Kevin Henry, Managing Editor
When you pull into the office parking lot of Dr. Marty Carrow and Dr. Kevin Chapel in Alton, Ill., you’ll quickly notice all of the growth in the area surrounding their office. A new high school sits across the street and numerous professional buildings dot the surroundings. Some would say Drs. Carrow and Chapel have been quite lucky with their location, but luck has absolutely nothing to do with it.
“When I was trying to find a location in 1999, I had two choices,” Dr. Carrow recalled. “I could either develop land in what was then a popular area or I could look at where the traffic was going to be in the future. When we looked at the options, there really was only one that was a slam dunk.”
Dr. Carrow did his homework and found a two-acre tract of land that would not only be across the street from the new high school, but also just over a mile from an exit off a new highway that would be used by thousands of commuters coming from St. Louis. He quickly purchased the property, an investment that has tripled in value in the last seven years.
It is this type of progressive thinking that has marked the 3,010-square-foot dental office where Drs. Carrow and Chapel practice. The office was built with an eye toward the future as well. Currently there are six operatories, but plans are already underway to open another one this spring. There is room for two more operatories in the future, thanks to a huge basement where the staff lounge will be relocated.
“In the process of designing this office, I knew I had to have a methodical strategic plan,” Dr. Carrow recalled. “I had worked in a dental practice for 19 years with my dad and my brother, and there weren’t any windows in the operatories. During the winter, the only sunlight I ever saw was if I got to go out for lunch. I knew what I wanted, and I knew how I wanted the office to look.”
With ideas already flowing, Dr. Carrow enlisted the services of local designer Mike Lefferson of Lefferson and Associates.
“Functionally, Marty knew what he wanted from the moment we first sat down, and the job is always a pleasure when the client expresses his or her desires for the building,” said Lefferson. “Marty wanted his office to be very personalized, and I wanted to develop a facility that reflected him and went above and beyond the needs of his patients.”
Like anything, a good foundation is always important and the floors of the new practice were as important as anything else in the minds of Dr. Carrow and Lefferson. Rather than wood as the foundation for the floor, a three-inch layer of poured concrete provides the foundation between the basement and the working area.
“There is simply too much flex in wood when you walk on it, and we didn’t want patients to feel the floor give when they walked,” Lefferson explained. “Yes, it was certainly more expensive, but everyone agrees that the extra cost has been well worth it.”
Numerous design features are pleasing to the patients’ senses. Curved walls give a soft feel to the architecture, and fresh flowers are brought in and placed each week at the front desk. Aromatherapy and scented candles delight patients’ noses and provide a feeling of comfort while they wait. Once a patient’s name is called, he or she is brought down a hallway filled with original photographs, which gives a feeling similar to that of walking into an art gallery rather than a dental practice.
“It was important for us for patients to have a ‘gallery experience’ when they walked down the hallway,” Lefferson said. “Dark colors behind the large photographic prints and accentuated lighting really draw attention to them.”
“All of our photography was done by a patient who is a professional artist, Jeff Vaughn, and it is of the local area during various seasons,” Dr. Carrow added. “Our patients can walk down the halls and recognize where the photos were taken.”
Once the patient reaches the operatory, he or she can gaze out one of two large windows, possibly looking into the untouched woods that are part of Drs. Carrow and Chapel’s acreage and provide a majestic view during the fall. The feeling of space given to the patient from the windows is matched by the oversized operatories. In his previous practice, Dr. Carrow worked in an 8-by-10 operatory, a veritable closet compared to the 10-by-12 operatories he has now.
“One of the things people dislike about coming into a dental office is that they feel like we are in their personal space,” said Dr. Chapel, who joined the practice in 2000 and first met Dr. Carrow as an 8-year-old patient. “A feeling of openness is very important. We want our patients to feel relaxed and peaceful.”
Patients also want to feel like they are important. To provide each patient with a personalized experience, Drs. Carrow and Chapel entrust their staff members to make copious notes while they converse with each patient. Family news, vacations, and other tidbits help the doctors and staff members become more familiar with the patient.
“People identify with people who truly know and recognize them and what they do,” Dr. Chapel explained. “Before we go into any operatory, we look at the personal notes on the patient from his or her last visit. If I can walk in and ask a patient about his or her trip to Jamaica, that makes a big impact and puts the patient at ease.”
When a new patient enters the practice, he or she goes through a 70-minute new patient exam, including 30 minutes with one of the doctors. Full-mouth probing is performed, and a video of the patient’s entire mouth is taken.
“We’ve found the video to be extremely useful,” Dr. Carrow explained. “Using our Dentrix image-management software, we can isolate on a problem in the patient’s mouth and show it to him or her on screen. Rather than just telling a patient he or she has a cracked tooth, we can show it to them. That makes an amazing impact. We can also pull up those images when we bring the patient to the consultation room to talk about treatment.”
The consultation room is perhaps the most important room in the new practice. With curved glass walls, it is located in the center of the office’s design. Blinds are drawn when a patient is brought in for consultation, and every patient leaves with a printed “checklist” of the treatment plan.
“When patients sit in the chair, it may seem to them like everything is being thrown at them at once,” Dr. Chapel said. “We schedule consultations around 5 p.m. so no work or school is missed. If the patient can be reminded of what we spoke about, be shown the pictures to back up what we are saying, and walk out with a treatment plan printout, it is extremely valuable. They appreciate not having any unwanted surprises in the future.”
Going above and beyond in terms of communication is one of the cornerstones of Drs. Carrow and Chapel’s success. It is also one of the reasons why the duo relies solely on word-of-mouth for new patients and concentrates heavily on internal marketing.
“If we can get someone in the door, we know they’re going to be satisfied and they’ll become a patient for life,” Dr. Chapel said.
The new practice has not only drawn the attention of patients, but also other dentists in the area. Several have stopped by to walk through and gather ideas for their new offices in the future. An almost carbon copy of the office has sprung up in a neighboring town, proving the old adage that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
“I know there are some people who always worry about ‘the competition’ and don’t want to give away any secrets of success,” Dr. Carrow smiled. “I don’t get hung up on that. If I’m worried about someone taking away my patient base, then I must not be very secure in the way that I practice.”With an eye on the present and an eye on the future, Drs. Carrow and Chapel have not only ensured security, but prosperity as well.
- Make things centralized. “We put our sterilization area and lab close to each other so our dental assistants wouldn’t have to be running back and forth,” Dr. Carrow said.
- When looking at building a new practice, attend a design course and be sure your staff has a say in the design as well. “We went to Michael Unthank’s course and learned so much. I think it’s very important to go listen to someone who is an expert in the field,” Dr. Carrow said. “Mike Lefferson asked our staff members what they wanted in the new practice design and this gave them a sense of ownership and gave us some great ideas.”
- Make sure your front desk doesn’t become a bottleneck. “We brought in Dr. Cathy Jameson as a consultant and we now have it where there are two sides to our front desk. The right side houses our hygiene coordinator and the left is where our restorative coordinator sits. We also schedule all of our hygiene appointments six months out from the operatory, cutting down on a lot of traffic at the front desk,” Dr. Carrow said.
- Don’t be afraid to work long hours. “On Tuesday and Thursday, we’re here from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Those are primarily hygiene days and we have three hygienists working. The doctors split the day. Having hours before and after work and school has really built our practice base,” Dr. Carrow said.
- Be visible outside the dental office. “We spend a lot of time on boards and in the community, whether it’s neighborhood associations or Rotary. It’s a great way to meet people and stay abreast of the latest things happening in the community,” Dr. Carrow said.
- Make sure you have an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) in your office. “I hope I never have to use it, but I don’t want to be caught in a situation where I would need it and wouldn’t have it,” Dr. Carrow said.