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A Guide to Optimizing Your Dental Office Design to Improve the Patient Experience for Your Practice

April 25, 2022

Everything about your dental office design, from the seats in your reception area to the cleanliness of your sterilization room, sends a message. Through your dental clinic design, you can show your patients that you care about their health, safety, and well-being, thus improving your practice’s overall patient experience.

Melissa Sprau, a seasoned interior designer with a background in healthcare facilities, shared her expertise on dental office design in a Benco webinar. In this article, we’ll discuss and tackle the key insights she shared, including the importance of patient experience and how you can optimize your dental office design to meet your patients’ needs.

What Is Patient Experience?

Although “patient experience” and “patient satisfaction” are often linked together, the two concepts are very different. Patient satisfaction is measured by how well a healthcare encounter met a patient’s expectations.

On the other hand, patient experience is the sum of interactions that a patient has with any healthcare system as a whole, shaped by the culture, process, and design of the facility. It includes every step of the process that a patient goes through at your practice, from scheduling an appointment to home care instructions following treatment.

The Importance of Patient Experience

In her Benco webinar, Melissa Sprau shared research conducted by the Beryl Institute, which found that 94% of patients value having a good experience with their healthcare provider. According to survey respondents, the reasons why patient experience matters are because:

  1. “My health and well-being are important to me.”
  2. “I want my physical needs to be taken seriously.”
  3. “It contributes to my healing and good health care outcomes.”

This data tells us that patients believe that having a good experience with you in your practice influences the positivity of their outcome and their ability to heal. Therefore, a positive patient experience is critical to the overall health and well-being of your patients.

The Connection Between Patient Experience and Dental Office Design

To better understand how dental office design influences patient experience, let’s look at how humans communicate. The psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that there are three core elements in effective communication:

  • Verbal (what we say) – 7%
  • Vocal (how we say it, including tone of voice, etc.) – 38%
  • Visual (nonverbal cues, including facial expressions, etc.) – 55%

When humans are confused or unsure about a message conveyed, the tendency is to look at the visual environment for clues. The same is true for patient experience.

If a new patient enters your practice, they will often look at the environment for inferences on how to act, what to do, and whether they feel safe and comfortable. Does your dental office design effectively convey the message that you want to send?

Practical Tips on Using Your Dental Office Design to Improve Patient Experience

A study conducted by the Beryl Institute found that the top three factors that contribute to a positive patient experience are: communication, quality of care, and infection control. Sprau gave helpful, practical, and detailed dental office design tips to improve these three areas. Let’s take a look at each of them:


Reception Area

  • Provide visual cues of where to go and what to do.
    New patients who walk into a dental practice might get confused about where they’re supposed to go. So, it’s best to make your dental office design as intuitive and easy to follow as possible. Also, make sure that a friendly face is there to greet and assist them when needed.
  • Allow visual access to where patients will be called back.
    When patients are in a waiting room, they may get anxious when they don’t know where their awaited status updates or information will come. They will feel like they can’t relax because they have to keep looking around the room.To help ease your patient’s worries, address this issue with your dental office design. Make it clear where someone will come out to greet them, call them back, or retrieve them.
  • Address bottlenecks.
    Imagine that you’re a patient talking to the receptionist, and there’s a long line of patients waiting behind you. Perhaps, they are listening in on your conversation or just impatiently waiting for you to finish. Doesn’t this scenario bring up stressful and anxious feelings?With an intuitive dental clinic design, you can avoid this problem. Find a way to make your reception area more comfortable for patients and address the bottlenecks at check-in and check-out.

    One example provided by Sprau is creating a break-out bench that is separate and distanced from the reception desk. This way, patients can sit there as they wait for their turn.

Consultation Room

  • Ensure your space is private and comfortable.
    Patients today want to be active participants in their care. So, when designing a consultation room, make sure that the area will allow them to feel comfortable asking questions and hearing you present their treatment plan.
  • Keep your space free from clutter.
    Your dental clinic interior should include elements that will enhance patients’ perception of and trust in you, such as your credentials and accolades framed on the wall. However, avoid adding too many unnecessary design elements because these can make the room feel cluttered.
  • Use technology to display images easily.
    Suppose you want to pull up X-ray images or 3D scans while discussing treatments with your patient. Having a simple television screen in your consultation room makes it easier for you to illustrate your point while also conveying a sense of transparency and trustworthiness, which is essential when you’re trying to get a patient to sign off on a treatment plan.

Team Areas

  • Allow for focused communication between team members.
    Team spaces in practices are often an afterthought. They’re shoehorned in leftover space and sometimes not equipped with the right amenities. However, having well-design team spaces can improve the productivity and efficiency of your operations. So, make sure your dental office design takes team areas into account.
  • Use whiteboards or bulletin boards to capture messages.
    This method is one way of ensuring that your team members are aware of important news and announcements. Having a whiteboard in the team area can also be useful during team meetings and huddles.
  • Designate a space for team huddles.
    Having a designated space for team huddles can allow for more collaborative and open communication. This step will help ensure that everyone in your team is on the same page and ultimately trickle down to the experience you can provide your patients.

Quality of Care

  • Borrow from the hospitality industry–add simple amenities and signature scents.
    Design elements like amenities and signature scents can do wonders for your patients’ perception of your quality of care. Examples of simple amenities you can add to your dental office design could be giving patients a place to charge their phones while in the waiting area or adding wider seats for parents who bring their children.According to Sprau, many studies have shown the vital link between aromatic scents and positive memory recall. Signature scents are valuable because they help your patients associate your practice with soothing and pleasant smells.
  • Try a signature color for brand continuity.
    Patients don’t want to see logos plastered everywhere or other in-your-face brand marketing strategies. Having a signature color in your dental clinic interior can help establish your brand in patient’s minds, creating subtle yet effective “branded touchpoints” throughout your facility.
  • Ensure consistency along a patient’s path of travel.
    Does the corridor to and from a treatment room evoke the same positive feelings as your reception space? Or does it look ominous, devoid of color and interest? It doesn’t matter how beautiful your reception area looks if other parts of your office within the patient view don’t look nice or are not consistent with your overall brand design.
  • Use specialty materials where they’ll have the most impact.
    Specialty materials like wall coverings, 3D resins, or panels can help contribute to the feeling of quality in your practice. However, these can be a bit pricey, so if you’re going to use them in your dental office design, make sure to place them somewhere that’s within patients’ view and will maximize their use.

Infection Control

Sterilization Center

  • Keep it clean.
    One regulation in healthcare facilities that you can implement in a dental office design is to keep sterilization rooms completely separate from the room where clean equipment is stored. So, do not keep clean and dirty instruments in the same room. Also, do not use the sterilization center as a break room or storage room!
  • Invest in commercial-grade cabinetry.
    Not all cabinetry is created equal. Non-commercial-grade cabinetry can more easily get penetrated by moisture, which then makes room for bacteria to grow. Commercial-grade cabinetry is designed to prevent this problem, helping you keep your sterilization room cleaner while also lasting much longer.
  • Designate “zones” that comply with CDC’s instrument processing steps (receiving, cleaning and contamination, sterilization, storage).
    Is your sterilization process intuitive by the design of your practice and based on how the room is laid out? Fortunately, many pre-manufactured sterilization centers are designed with this process in mind. However, if you want to go above and beyond in your dental office design, you can change the floor colors to designate an area for each step of the process.

Reception Area

  • Keep chairs six feet apart.
    Despite complying with COVID management guidelines, your reception area doesn’t have to lack style or feel sterile. You can create seating clusters or vary seating types to make the space look stylish and visually attractive while still maintaining social distancing.
  • Put hygiene supplies on a tray.
    One simple yet effective dental office design tip is to put all of your respiratory etiquette supplies, such as hand sanitizers and tissues and put them in a tray. Doing this will keep the finishes on the tops of your end tables from eroding (from contact with alcohol-based sanitizers). Also, the tray makes the supplies look like a curated arrangement and amenity rather than a simple requirement.
  • Invest in commercial-grade furnishings.
    According to a study by the American Journal of Infection Control, also cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, soft surfaces in healthcare settings are a vehicle for infection transmission. As such, it’s essential to lower the risk of infection by opting for commercial-grade furniture.Commercial-grade furniture includes antimicrobial coatings that prevent them from harboring and spreading bacteria. They are also easier to clean and maintain and will last longer than standard furnishings.

Everywhere Else

  • Purify your air.
    Invest in air purification systems, and make sure to tell your patients. Letting your patients know that you care about their health by addressing air quality in your dental office design can help bring them peace of mind.So, use this fact in your advertising. You could even have a plaque or sign in your reception room that says, “Your health is important to us. Clean air brought to you by…” and name the air purification system manufacturer.
  • Deal with contaminated trash and soiled PPE safely by designating space, ideally with negative air pressure.
    Negative air pressure rooms take dirty or contaminated air and keep them contained in a safe space to be exhausted directly out of the building or safely filtered and recirculated. This practice is best for dealing with trash, used PPE, and other soiled materials.
  • Store clean supplies safely, ideally with positive air pressure.
    Positive air pressure rooms are sealed spaces that are pumped with a constant supply of clean air, which helps keep clean supplies from getting contaminated. Hospital supply rooms are one example of this. Even though this is not mandatory for a dental office design, having a designated area used to prevent cross-contamination can be valuable for your safety and those of your patients and staff.

Learn More About How to Optimize Your Dental Office Design!

The foundation of every successful dental practice is built on patient-centered care. Are you ready to start enhancing the patient experience of your practice? You can find more information on dental office design by watching the Benco webinar “Decoding Your Office Design: What Message Are You Sending?” with Melissa Sprau and Sucharita Ray. Stay tuned for more insightful and valuable dentistry webinars from Benco!


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