dental consultation
A dedicated exam room is one variation of the consultation room.

For a long time I have been an enthusiastic advocate for the idea of having a dedicated consultation room in the practice – a place separate from where you perform dentistry where you can talk with patients in private about their treatment options and financial considerations. In fact, the principles behind an effective consultation room – the location in the practice, the size, the layout, how it should be outfitted – was a central component in a course I used to teach on optimizing practice design for the right patient experience, and I have been happy to see many dentists make great use of this approach.

To build on this idea, let me share a variation on the consultation room approach that can be worth exploring for practitioners who are ready to shake things up in their office layout.

It is a variation I was reminded of when I was visiting the office of a member of my specialists study club – an exceptionally successful periodontist whose practice was growing rapidly. He was planning to relocate and expand, but until then space was a crucial issue for him. So I suggested he convert his personal office (he does most of his office work on his laptop anyway) and his consultation room into two dedicated exam rooms.

These exam rooms are fully outfitted operatories, but are used almost exclusively for consultations, where he does his “records, diagnosis, treatment planning” process and where he presents his findings to the patients. The patient sits in a dental chair and the doctor can use all his case presentation tools – intra-oral camera, patient education videos – in an environment that reinforces his professional credibility.

He sees all new patients in these dedicated exam rooms. If a patient in hygiene requires a deeper discussion, he brings that patient into an exam room. It’s where he discusses treatment options, and where he and his team talk about fees and financing. It’s a clinical, value-creation, and business setting all in one.

This doctor has seen a dramatic increase in patient acceptance since he reconfigured things to adopt this approach, and he attributes that increase in large part to this re-organization of his office space. Part of the reason, he says, is that patients have become more at ease and more open to treatment presentations when they are not taken on “the walk” to the consultation room – something that seems to drive many of them into an instinctively defensive mental posture, where they feel they are about to be given the “hard sell.” In the exam room, they are just talking with their dental professional in a professional environment.

Introducing these exam rooms also had the effect of expanding the practice, as the clinical operatories are now being used for just that – clinical delivery. Nobody is occupying a chair in those rooms who isn’t undergoing treatment.

This isn’t a solution that works for everyone, of course, and many dentists are getting great results from using their current consultation rooms. But if you are thinking about changes to your office layout, and you are currently dedicating a lot of space to a consultation room or a personal office you barely use, it can be an interesting option to consider.

(Click this link to read more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)