What do Patients Want?


The following is a reprint of an article entitled, “What Do Patients Want?” by Dr. David J. Ahearn. The contents of this article are Copyright © 2000, Dr. David J. Ahearn. All rights reserved.

Did you ever notice that the photos you see of award-winning dental offices are usually of the waiting room? OK let’s be politically correct… the reception area?

Sure, if the photos are from a dental dealer, they will probably include a shot of a treatment room with vast amounts of cabinets and every high-tech toy imaginable. We noticed this a few years back and it got us to thinking…

1. What do patients want in a dental office design? Isn’t that supposed to be our goal?

2. Could we produce offices that were:

  • highly productive
  • patient-centered
  • economical
  • AND fun to work in

3. If we could figure this out, would doctors understand and build offices that satisfy the patient’s desires and not just the doctors?

When we studied this issue, we discovered that what patients want is clear. They want:

  • clean offices (which we translated to easy to clean!)
  • enough intimacy to allow for rapid personal contact with the reception/greeting staff upon arrival.
  • timely performance of their dental care.
  • the perception that the doctor is up-to-date.

From the study it became clear that what patients want and what doctors build (assuming that money is available) are two very different things.

It’s a vicious cycle: doctors build excessive waiting rooms that don’t allow personal interface and leave patients feeling isolated. Then, because the details of production haven’t been ironed out, the practice is forced to stack patients in the waiting room because they aren’t running on time. The office is off schedule because the complicated and overly expensive treatment rooms don’t work as well as they should. Since the doctors have spent so much money on this equipment, they are pressured to schedule more heavily… so they get behind… ugh!

It’s all backwards!

Dental offices bottleneck in three places: the treatment rooms, sterilization and the front desk. These bottlenecks rotate as production increases. Dentists receive no training on how to reorganize and break open bottlenecks. What often appears as a front desk bottleneck (for example, before lunch) is often actually a treatment room constraint. Anyway, what we discovered in the study of what in manufacturing is called one-piece-flow, was that bottlenecks can be prevented‹and not just by building cavernous waiting rooms, and excessively complicated treatment and sterilization space.

Doctors save money, patients receive better care and treatment runs on time.