If Disney did dental!

The theme`s the thing! It`s what today`s consumers want. Patients don`t just want dental treatment, they want `dentertainment!`

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The theme`s the thing! It`s what today`s consumers want. Patients don`t just want dental treatment, they want `dentertainment!`

Joseph Iannello, DDS

Our patients really are consumers at heart. They rapidly are becoming accustomed to retail and service environments that not only provide goods and services, but also package them in an "experience." Some examples of these "experiences" include the cafes at Barnes and Nobles book stores, indoor amusement parks at Malls of America, virtual reality machines at neighborhood shopping centers, and exotic foreign locales recreated at hotels/casinos in Las Vegas. In effect, the bar has been raised not only for the level of service and attention today`s consumers absolutely demand and expect, but for the ambience and facility in which those services are provided.

The probable originator of all of this is Disneyland, which opened in 1955, and Disney World, which opened in 1971. The Disney concept of physical enchantment left guests "feeling good" about their visits and themselves. From the entrance to the Magic Kingdom (special transportation required - your choice of monorail or paddlewheel), to its themed hotels, themed exhibits, and themed rides, the emphasis is one theme throughout - "magical fun." That`s the key! Magical fun that elicits squeals of delight from enchanted children and warm smiles from tickled and oftentimes astonished adults.

The theme is the thing! Theme is everything! Theme is what today`s consumers (i.e., our patient) want. People don`t just want to shop; they want to be entertained. They don`t just want information ... they want entertainment. Check out AOL, People magazine, and every television news-magazine format out there. In the same way, our patients don`t just want dental treatment - they want "dentertainment"! (Don`t bother checking your dictionary for that last word; I just made it up.)

So, be like Disney and give them dentertainment!

Some great things about dentistry lend themselves very well to this notion. People go to the dentist regularly (well, at least 50 percent of the population supposedly does). They view it as a necessity, not as basic and routine as going to their hairstylist ("cosmetic barber"), but not as threatening and serious as a visit to their physician.

Do you want to be original ... to set yourself apart from the crowd? Then, make your dental office fun! A fun dental office - hey, isn`t that an oxymoron?! It used to be, but not at our offices. The secret is to use a theme and carry it out in all that you and your staff do. It begins with the theme being physically incorporated into the office itself. In other words, build a themed dental facility. Theme it so that your office goes from nice to interesting to entertaining to exciting! When your child and adult patients tell you your office is "cool," "special," "unique," "I`ve never seen an office like this ... I gotta tell my friends!," then you know you`ve reached the level of dentertainment.

Where do you start? You start in the most magical place possible - your mind! Disney has a team of highly paid "imagineers" to design their unique attractions. But I am sure none of them have the passion that you do for your own "magic kingdom" - your dental office. Imagine places you have visited - a country, a hotel, a resort, a club, a mall, where a certain image or setting impressed you or relaxed you so that you just knew you had to return there again someday. Or, perhaps, a movie or a book sets off your imagination to clearly visualize and raises your serotonin to levels of euphoric bliss.

For me, the most relaxing, visually attractive place I have ever seen is an unspoiled Caribbean beach. Close your eyes and envision with me the swaying palm trees, brightly colored tropical flowers, lush greenery, and the aquamarine surf. All of this is topped with a blue syrupy sky and puffy white marshmallow clouds, like a delicious ice cream sundae. Grandly sitting just off the beach is your hotel, with a lobby boasting an indoor luscious garden, centered with a waterfall of cool water gently lapping over rocks. Overhead, some ceiling fans lazily push about that pure, warm, sweet-scented Caribbean air.

Now, if you don`t find that relaxing and inviting, I suggest that you soak yourself in a tub of antifreeze, thaw out your fozen hang-ups with a glass or two of fine wine, and then try this imagining exercise again!

Making the vision reality

Since the Caribbean ideal is what I imagined, the challenge was to take that vision and transport it to one of the most unrelaxing places known to man - a dentist`s office! I also believe that the one company that always has been admired for its ability to take the ordinary and make it magical - namely Disney - could be the ultimate standard to which I would be held. The last thing I wanted to do was create an inferior imitation of what a Disney would have done if Disney designed a dental office. This would cheapen the final result. It would have been worse than having just a basic, stripped down dental office. I wanted to create in cold, sterile New York a Caribbean-themed dental office.

That meant intensive thinking and exploring sessions, studying what structures, fixtures, and effects I could employ and develop that 1) would not be totally out of reach financially, 2) would creatively enhance the visual and sensory experience of our patients, no matter where they were in the office; and 3) would create a total effect that still denoted professionalism and elicited confidence. Any appearance or suggestion of crassness or cheapness absolutely had to be avoided.

I drew upon some of the effects that we had built in our other two facilities over the years. The first dental office was created as a freestanding, cedar-sided structure with two large skylights, greenery in and out, and with a modern styling to give it a California contemporary look. The second office was decorated using a southwestern motif with colorful wallpaper with geometric prints of teals, mauve, blues, and yellow. This was complemented by Mexican-style wall decorations and several cactus arrangements, which elicited many positive comments from patients.

Although neither my wife, Karen, nor myself had any professional decorating experience whatsoever, we proceeded to research all we could via the outlet stores, furniture stores, and the Internet to come up with the final furniture, designs, and finishing effects. This was all incorporated into the final office layout, which we created and had rendered on blueprints by an architect.

Welcome to the Caribbean!

The building housing the office is peach-colored with teal accents. The entry into the office is a full glass vestibule. Gazing through the glass you can see an eye-catching array of colorful sights and structures, giving the appearance of a Caribbean Island luxury-hotel lobby. It invites you to walk in just to explore.

These structures include the large, front reception desk that is created of natural-appearing stone and 10-foot-high, glass-block walls, and three large, stone planters positioned in a grotto-like arrangement in the reception room. The largest planter is 11 feet by 10 feet and contains a 13-foot-high palm tree, reaching up to an artificial skylight, a waterfall of rocks and cascading water, and a lush, dense arrangement of tropical plants and flowers. The other two planters, slightly smaller in size, each contain a double trunk palm tree, surrounded by dense tropical plants and flowers. The scent of flowers emanates from a device located in the planters.

The reception-room chairs are pecan-colored rattan with green cushions. Overhead are two ceiling fans that slowly revolve to suggest a warm Caribbean climate. Soft ceiling lights and indirect wall-washer lighting eliminate the harshness of standard fluorescent bulbs that would negatively impact the atmosphere that we were trying to create.

The wallpaper is a rich green print throughout the reception area, with a lighter green bamboo effect behind the front-desk area. The floor covering in the reception room and the additional eight-foot by eight-foot children`s area is a brightly colored carpet of green plants and tropical pink orchids. The flooring from the vestibule to and around the front desk is a terracotta ceramic tile. Piped in throughout these areas are Caribbean Island sounds, such as calypso steel drums and Hawaiian music.

Crossing the boardwalk

To reach any of the eight treatment rooms, patients must walk across a real wood boardwalk, treated to give a weathered effect, under a painted sky. Directly ahead of them is a ceiling-to-floor mural depicting an island beach with palm trees and gentle surf. Piped into this area is the sound of a gentle, rolling surf. In front of the mural, just at the end of the boardwalk, a watery blue carpet begins. It contains a design featuring colorful seashells and starfish. The entire office creates an effect in which the patient entering the office for the first time feels like he or she is being transported to a Caribbean Island hotel and then across a boardwalk to the hotel`s adjoining island beach.

Each of the treatment rooms is decorated with durable flooring, Formica cabinetry, and chairs and wallpapers that all color-coordinate in a style suggestive of the tropics. In fact, each room has a large, framed travel poster of a different island. The treatment rooms are not numbered, but have names such as Hawaii, Bermuda, Antigua, Jamaica, Bahamas, Aruba, Virgin Islands, and Barbados. The patients are greeted by the dental assistant or hygienist and are invited to go to "Hawaii," not to Operatory 3. In fact, many patients get into this fun so much that they have chosen which room is their "favorite."

Does it work? Yes, absolutely yes! Every single patient who has visited this office has walked through it with a broad smile. They all have expressed compliments in many ways and many have asked for a tour. Both adults and children have been enchanted. Every one has immediately said the same thing: "I feel like I`m on vacation."

Achieving goal and more

Did it reach my goal of eliciting expressed feelings of being more relaxed and enjoying coming to the dentist? Yes, our patients have expressed all that and more! In addition, we also have received significant media coverage. We have been interviewed by numerous radio stations, appeared in quite a few newspapers with both an article and accompanying photographs of the office, and have been filmed by several television news and style shows.

So, if the thought of building or redesigning your office has been something you have been contemplating, consider an office with a theme. The theme should be versatile enough to last for years and still not age. Your design should not just be attractive, but interesting and even surprising. Most importantly, your office should create an image that delights your patients and staff, makes you proud, and reinforces in your patients` minds that such an extraordinary office befits such an extraordinary dentist!

For more information about this article, contact the author at (631) 724-0104 or at comments@iannellodental.com. A biography of the author appears on page 8.

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A full-glass vestibule entry shows off the colorful reception area, designed to give the appearance of a Caribbean Island luxury-hotel lobby.

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