Time to shine

winter’s day and you have just arrived for another day of chaos at Depression Dental Clinic – an old, unloved house that has been converted into a dental clinic. Your ‘surgery’ is in what was once an upstairs bedroom, the steep stairs are a safety hazard and the musty carpet is threadbare.

The dental unit is disintegrating – ripped beige vinyl, a hand-piece with a mind of its own that might choose to function today. Fibre optics are still unheard of and the stained suspended ceiling tiles are an embarrassment.

You are thinking of leaving. The boss constantly reminds you he has a “drawer full of CVs” beneath the cupboard where he has stockpiled a 10-year supply of X-ray developer and fixer. “For some reason this stuff is hard to find nowadays,” he often reflects.

At dental school, you expected more. A modern, light-filled clinic. Flat-screen, digital everything, computerised database and appointment book. The reality is far different; cardboard patient charts that might be filed correctly and a patient appointment diary – a Christmas gift from a dental lab – that has the devastating habit of going walkabout on a weekly basis. The boss is forever meaning to “attach it to the front desk with a chain”.

You have studied hard, passed a hundred exams or more. You have mastered the basic dental skills and have learned how to manage difficult patients. It is time to take the next step. Life is short, go for it!

Below is an overview of the major points to cover when planning your big move, which I hope you will find helpful. Obviously, a premises is your first consideration. Local estate agents will be best placed to advise, but ultimately I have found if you create a remarkable practice, patients will find you. High street location isn’t as important as it once was. The modern-day high street is your place on the web, your Google ranking.

Step one: Dental suppliers and advice
I selected Henry Schein to kit-out our new clinic. I found the team at Henry Schein to be very helpful and they guided me every step of the way. I wanted the best quality equipment available and they were able to supply this to me at a competitive price. They can even organise finance if required.

Don’t be tempted by cheap, untested brands of equipment. You deserve the best equipment – equipment you can rely on and be proud of. Forget the big car parked out the back. Invest in technology that matters, technology that you will be using every day to provide a quality service to your patients.

As part of the package, Henry Schein also designed the new clinic for me, taking my own sketches and ideas, refining them and converting them to AutoCAD drawings to be used by the construction team. When the drawings have been completed, a radiation advisor is needed to review them and advise on lead shielding requirements. I used an X-ray specialist firm from Kilcolgan, having built a relationship with the company over the years. The calculations are made and the builder is advised of the shielding requirements for each of the radiation sources.

Step two: Appoint a builder
I was fortunate that I knew a great local building contractor. The builder liaised with Henry Schein, who emailed drawings, templates and all their requirements directly to my builder. Jim Way of Henry Schein visited the building and talked the builder through the process. He was available to revisit the site as the building progressed and answer queries over the phone. At one point, while Jim was away in California on business, he was happy to take calls from us at what must have been the middle of the night… Sorry Jim!

Step three: Air quality
Stagnant air and ‘dental smells’ are a pet hate of mine. “I hate the smell at the dental clinic” is a comment we have all heard. Burning dentin, coupled with eugenol can be avoided!

I was determined to provide clean, fresh air in our surgeries. We installed central air conditioning in each area of the new clinic with independent remote controls in each room. To ensure a continuous supply of fresh air, we installed Beam Heat Recovery Ventilation. This system brings a continuous supply of fresh air into the clinic and expels the stale air. The system runs all day and is environmentally friendly as the incoming cold air is heated by the warm stale air as it is being expelled through a heat recovery interchanger.

It is a wonderful investment and insures a pleasant working environment. Bonus points from the environmentally friendly brigade. We also use a simple essential oils diffuser. You can choose your oils – our patients love lavender and lemongrass.

Step four: Marketing
You are launching a clinic and investing heavily. You need to let patients and future patients know. I decided to get a specialist dental marketing company on board. They set up a Facebook page for us, gave me ideas on how to improve our website and worked together with our web designer Clare Furler to launch some advertising promotions.

The marketing company were also involved in the installation of our clever illuminated tooth sign that really helps passing traffic  notice our dental clinic. I decided to invest in one and have already had many positive comments about our unique, quirky signage. I have found our marketing partners to be a great addition to our team. Entering industry awards can also be a great way to market your practice. It creates a great buzz about the practice and is a wonderful night out for the practice team should you be nominated.

Step five: Computers and IT
Modern dentistry is computerised and is becoming more reliant on technology by the day. It is vital that you invest in reliable IT infrastructure and find an experienced firm to install and maintain your system. Forget the local lad that fixes the odd PC – the experts are needed here.

The IT company we chose discussed my needs with me and consulted with the IT team at Henry Schein. They then liaised with my electricians, planned the network and made allowances for future technological development and expansion. They took care of everything from fast, reliable internet, phones, answering services, flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi headphones, intra-oral cameras, digital radiography, automated database back-up, through to alarm system and security cameras. They are readily available to answer any queries and come online via TeamViewer should I ever have a problem.

Step six: Cabinetry
I hired a local joiner to construct cabinetry for surgeries, LDU (sterilisation room), staff room/locker room, kitchen and to construct the reception area. He even manufactured the housing for our new aquarium. The joiner was available to walk through the new surgery, discuss our needs onsite and made changes as the design evolved. Dental cabinets are easy to construct and certainly no challenge to a joiner used to constructing high-end kitchens!

Step seven: Painting and decorating
The new practice is taking shape and it is time to put the icing on the cake. If you are not artistic by nature, leave the design to someone else! Magnolia or the leftover paint from the day you decorated granny’s front room will not suffice. My wife and I had recently completed building our new home and had the great fortune to meet and employ the services of colour consultant and designer Niamh MacGowan. Niamh’s advice was still fresh in my mind and we were brave enough to choose some beautiful Colourtrend, Farrow & Ball and Little Greene colours. I am regularly asked for the names of the colours we have used and one patient even asked me to make her a colour chart she can use at home!

Similarly, with furniture choice, buy some new modern furniture. The worn fireside armchairs with cat hair and broken springs that are no longer good enough for your relatives are not appropriate. New, clean, fresh, modern is the way to go.

My two children love Finding Nemo and often asked why Nemo doesn’t live at my surgery. We decided to bring a little bit of aquatic magic to the practice and introduce some sealife to the waiting room. We now have a beautiful Amazonian aquarium which is serviced every month to keep the tank and our fish healthy. Obviously children love the aquarium, and adults too mention they find it a relaxing addition.

I discovered the solution to our waiting room televisions online. The service I found provides a personalised waiting room TV channel and allows you to provide patient dental education, showcase you dental treatment and advertise promotions in your dental waiting area. Interspersed with this is world news headlines and entertainment news. No place for dog-eared copies of Woman’s Way or piles of information leaflets gathering dust in the corner.

Step eight: Rest
At this stage, you will be exhausted. Book a few days off and get away from the stress. Do as little of the work at the new practice as possible. There is a man or woman for every job. You need to be fresh, revitalised and enthusiastic when you open the doors. It seems counter-intuitive to escape for a break, but it is an essential step as you approach the finish line.

Step nine: Opening
Give your team a deadline and stick to it. Builders are busy men and will always have another job on the horizon. A definite rigid deadline is needed to keep them focused. In the last few days, we had ı0 men, five different trades, working alongside and in the way of each other. It was a touch chaotic but the deadline had to be, and was, met.

Step 10: Teething issues
There will be problems. Be prepared for these. Step eight will help ensure that you can manage the hassles that result when new dental equipment fails and other small issues arise on opening day. It is essential that you have a local dental engineer/supplier to assist with the unexpected glitches.

Tom Fahy at West Coast Dental/Handpiece Harry was our hero and came to the rescue when we had some opening day hassles. He postponed other jobs he had on his agenda and jetted over to help us. Thanks Tom! It took us about a month to settle into the new practice, organising equipment, stock and wondering why the air-conditioner was beeping. Remember, all our suppliers are there to help, and a quick and polite phone conversation will usually solve the issue.

In conclusion
As I write this article, we are six weeks at our new practice. It was a busy few months for us but we are delighted with the results. My receptionist recently commented that “it doesn’t feel like coming to work”. She is so happy with her new reception area, kitchen, lockers and Nespresso machine. My hygienist, who is newly graduated, has stepped into the surgery we all wish we first had – flatscreens, LED handpieces, air polisher – digital everything.

We have a happy, and enthusiastic team who are relaxed simply because we have reliable systems in place. We have a behind-the-scenes team ready to call on should the need arise. Patients are greeted by a happy, relaxed face; one patient recently commented that the practice is very “Zen”, another that it has a “spa-like feel”. Of course, there is always room to improve, but we aim to be proactive not reactive. For now, job done. Here’s to a less hectic 2018! 

About the author
Dr Patrick O’Beirne, BDS (NUI) 2004, is the owner of Ballinrobe Dental, a state-of-the-art dental practice located in Ireland’s beautiful lake district. His wife Ciara McHugh is the owner of an optometry practice nearby and they are the proud parents of Patrick Junior (six) and Elizabeth (three). In their spare time, the O’Beirne family enjoy hiking in Connemara, cycling the Mayo countryside and boating on Lough Corrib. Patrick can be contacted if you need any advice or a final push at obeirne1@hotmail.com

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Published: 18 December, 2017 at 10:56