Maximizing Your Productivity: The Case for Multi-Use Operatories

Author : Dental Product Shopper
Published Date 10/02/2009
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As you ponder the best and most cost-effective ways to set up operatories in a new practice or update those in an existing practice, ask yourself some questions intended to give you a patient?s eye view:

? Is the design and appearance of your facility consistent with the level of care you deliver? The physical environment should reflect the level of care you deliver, and it should be apparent to your patients from the moment they walk in the door.

? Are your patients generally seen on time, or are they frequently left waiting for the ?right? operatory to become free? Like it or not, dental visits are inherently stressful for most patients, and excessive waiting adds fuel to the anxiety and frustration fire.

? Are your staff stressed and exhausted or are they calm and relaxed? What about you? Beyond the obvious benefits to your practice and the staff themselves, employees who appear happy and relaxed speak volumes to your patients?as do those who appear frazzled and pressured.

Maximizing Your Productivity: The Case for Multi-Use Operatories

Roughly 80% of new dental patients come from existing-patient referrals. When you consider that the hygiene operatory is where most patients form their impression of your practice, investing in ways to maximize operatory efficiency is a logical way to enhance productivity and improve return on investment (ROI).

Hygiene is, of course, a substantial money-maker for busy practices. Maximizing hygiene operatory efficiency reduces stress by enabling optimal schedule management. But is having a hygiene-only operatory the most effective way to accomplish that goal? The answer, in most cases, is ?no.?

All Operatories are Not ?Created Equal??But Perhaps They Should Be

The typical 5-room dental clinic is likely to have 2 or 3 rooms set up for the dentist and 1 or 2 dedicated hygiene suites. Many dentists and hygienists gravitate toward a favorite room. Whether by preference or design, limiting operatory use to a single function is likely to limit productivity and, ultimately, ROI. The human element combined with physiology and the likelihood of emergencies is a recipe for schedule delay. When only certain procedures can be performed in a particular operatory, you run the risk of creating a hectic environment characterized by conflict, delays, and unreasonable wait times.

The cost to equip hygiene operatories is approximately 80% to 85% of that needed to equip dental operatories. But while they cost nearly as much, hygiene operatories produce substantially less income than dental suites, a reality that condemns the hygiene-only suite to be less productive.

Ideally, each operatory should be designed and equipped to handle any and all hygiene and dental procedures, making schedule confusion or delay an easy fix, with any patient able to be seen in any room for any reason. To this end, every operatory should be identical and interchangeable.

If the dentist or hygienist is running late with an emergency in Operatory A, the next patient can be brought into Operatory B. Or if, for example, you add an associate to your practice, split your schedules with the understanding that there may be overlap, and still keep your hygienist on board, multi-use operatories allow you to commandeer the hygiene operatory when you have more dental than hygiene patients. No harm, no foul, no waiting.

This flexibility is key to maximizing productivity. But flexibility needs to encompass both practice and design. And, each operatory should be designed and equipped identically.

The Blindfold Test: Basics of Mirror-Image Operatories

Of course, configuring each operatory to handle any procedure is often easier said than done. This undertaking becomes more feasible when some underlying principles are kept in mind:

? The function of each operatory is defined by the instrumentation brought into it.

? Every operatory should be identical in every way.

If Operatory A isn?t available, a dentist or hygienist should be able to walk into Operatory B essentially blindfolded and get down to work without missing a beat. In other words, all operatories in a practice are interchangeable; they change only with the type of instrument pack brought in for each procedure.

The Bottom Line

Is it worthwhile to switch to a multifunctional design? From an ROI standpoint, and for the expanding office, not doing so will likely have a negative impact.

When the productivity of 3,000+ dental offices was followed over several decades, those practices that embraced identically designed and equipped, multi-use operatories (a major factor among other practice strategies) reported an impressive compounding effect with regard to productivity; at year 4, they were doing 250% more business than at baseline, an effect that continued to compound until leveling out around year 7.

Office design does, indeed, impact your bottom line, and does so significantly. ?Depending on your current set-up,? explains Don Hobbs, Vice President of Equipment and Technology for Henry Schein?s US dental business, ?the hygiene-only to multipurpose switch might be as simple as restocking the rooms, updating some of the dental equipment, bringing in high-speed handpieces, etc.? But when you consider that a from-scratch, top-of-the-line hygiene operatory costs roughly $30,000, even a top-to-bottom makeover is feasible for most practices. As demand increases, along with the drive toward insurance-driven dental care, funding has never been ?cheaper,? rates have never been lower, and the government has never been more helpful (see ?The Tax Man Cometh?and Amortizeth?).

Medical/dental office design and ergonomics consultant Mark Tholen, DDS, MBA ( served as CEO of THE Design Company, involved with overseeing the planning, construction, and design of more than 3,000 dental offices. Dr. Tholen?s book, A Guide to Designing the Elegant Dental or Medical Office: The Largest Marketing Tool of Your Career (Gorman Foy Co., 2006) is available on