By Mohammed R. Razavi, DDS, MSD, FRCD(C)
The deal was signed. Attorneys and accountants were paid for 2 months of negotiations. The transition time between the selling orthodontist and myself was quickly winding down; and 4 years after graduation from my orthodontic residency, I finally had found my home—the place I was going to call my practice. However, something was missing. The place may have been mine on paper, but it certainly didn't feel like it belonged to me. Or rather, I didn't feel like I fit into the physical structure of the practice.
Every morning felt like taking a quantum leap into the 1980s. The orange-, red-, and blue-painted walls; the cloth-covered chairs in the reception room covered with years of dust; and the big paper-bound schedule book at the front desk were all features that had served the previous practitioner well. However, they were holding me back as the young orthodontist in the neighborhood who was trained in the latest orthodontic advances. After 1 year of the status quo, I realized that if I wanted to market my practice as a place that provided premier service with quality aesthetic orthodontic appliance choices and digital technologies, the physical appearance of the office had to be altered. But where to begin?
I knew I didn't want to move the practice. A Home Depot and Costco had recently opened down the street. At the other end of the street were a movie theater and lots of restaurants. The location also provided access to a nearby medical building, not to mention other dental professionals in the building that were good referral sources. It was clear to me that my new practice would have to happen from within.
I searched through the old architectural plans of the office and transferred the boundaries of the office-building space to a notepad. In my free time, I could be found sitting on an airplane or in the local coffee shop with a pencil and ruler drawing up new plans. However, it wasn't until a few months later when I was at the office one morning doing administrative work that I had an epiphany. While walking from my private office to the clinic area, I felt as if the walls were closing in on me. I stopped, looked around, and counted more than 30 walls in the 2,700-square-foot space. I looked out the window and was surprised to see the sun shining despite the 10 inches of snow on the ground from the last winter storm. From my walled-off office, I hadn't noticed the sun was out. The walls had to go. Within weeks, my crude sketch had become the architectural design for the new office.
The underlying objective of the new design was to factor in future growth of the practice. I knew with time, and use of sound practice management and marketing techniques, along with providing efficient and effective orthodontic treatment, combined with unparalleled service, the practice would grow. Growth meant planning for additional space at the reception desk, increasing clinic chairs from four to six, and adding a second consultation room equipped with digital patient education media. Furthermore, I wanted a space that patients would walk into and feel as if they had entered a friend's home. The selection of the color scheme, the seating, and flat-screen television in the reception area were all inspired by this "sense of home" theme.
Throughout the planning stage, we did not lose sight of the future of the orthodontic practice. The x-ray unit is upgradeable to a cone-beam CT unit, and one room was designed to eventually house a chairside oral scanner. The biggest surprise of the new layout, by far, has been the room that was initially designed as a private office for the financial coordinator. It is now being used as the doctor's central hub during hours of operation. Based on its location, it allows me to keep track of the going's-on at the reception desk, while being instantly accessible in the clinic. In addition, it provides me with a place to type notes and draft letters and treatment plans between patients, eliminating the need for late nights at the office.
While I was initially concerned about renovating an existing office space while continuing to operate and see patients, the redesign was completed with minimal disruption of patient care. The office was closed for three 1-week periods for major demolition and completion of new construction. The sound of power tools made patient communication difficult at times. However, it was easy to forget the temporary aggravation by looking forward to the final product. We even involved the patients in the demolition process by allowing them to write on the walls, while I tore down my least favorite wall in the old office. Today, the office is home: a place my staff members and I look forward to going to on a daily basis. OP