The Patient Experience – Feeling Good and Green

In previous entries, we looked at the business reasons for a green dental practice and office. We identified a framework for a visioning document to help prioritize sustainable goals for your practice. We learned about rating systems and examined some ways to reduce water and energy use by your dental practice. Today we’ll discuss the opportunities to improve the patient experience through green or sustainable design.

Most dentists would agree that a patients’ comfort and confidence in them is a priority for their practice. Having a sense of control is an important key to feeling comfortable. Feeling valued and respected by a dental practice gives a patient confidence that they have chosen the right place to receive dental care. A good experience is the reason patients return. So, what do comfort and confidence have to do with designing a green dental office?

To understand, let’s take a look at a common patient experience “miss” for dental and health practices alike – the patient wait. We’ve all had at least one bad wait and have felt all the negative emotions that come with it. Because of this, you understand how easily you can make your patient feel uncomfortable, undervalued and disrespected by providing poor waiting experiences.

There can be several waiting experiences for a patient in a given visit to the dentist: a wait to check in, the wait before being escorted to the treatment room, waiting in the dental chair for the provider to arrive to begin treatment, waiting for an area of the gums to numb after an injection, waiting with a tray in your mouth while an impression is being taken. There are many more examples that could be mentioned, but I think you get the picture.

A good wait experience happens when the people, process, and place involved all work together. Although it isn’t the only contributing factor, a sustainably designed place can definitely contribute in a positive way. Intentional design of the environment creates “moments.” Each “moment” either evokes a feeling, inspires an action and/or creates a memory. Green or sustainable design can be used intentionally to affect these moments.

For example, many people feel increased stress upon arrival at the dental office. The chemical odor, the sound of drills or other dental equipment has an effect on them, whether conscious or unconscious.  Implementing an enhanced ventilation system to your design can eliminate odors. Designing a space with high acoustic performance that reduces or masks the noise of dental equipment will eliminate a stressor for many of your patients.

Feeling too hot or too cold can make a wait seem even longer. A green feature often implemented is a heating and cooling system where thermal comfort can be controlled in each room. Imagine how your patient would feel if you asked them if the room temperature is comfortable and then adjusted it to their liking! You’ll make them feel comfortable, cared for and in control and you will have created a positive memory for them.

There are so many synergies which can be established between green design goals and the patient experience. Use design thinking methods with your team as you determine your project goals and conceive your design. Design thinking is a practical, creative, user-centered way to find solutions to design challenges. Begin by identifying the typical or present state of a particular aspect of your practice or your environment and then the ideal or future state. Then brainstorm with your design to build up lots of ideas that can be explored and distilled down to the right solution for your project. Don’t be afraid to try new and alternative paths to potential solutions as they emerge during exploration.

Let’s look at an example. You’ve identified daylighting, rainwater management, water conservation, heat island reduction, daylighting, and providing quality views to the outdoors as some of your green/sustainable goals. Improving your patient’s wait experiences is a practice goal for your business. Through creative brainstorming, identify ideas for synergies between these goals.

A sunlit room provided by daylighting feels good and is associated with higher productivity. Windows strategically placed can provide additional light, but also views to the outdoors, creating a sense of place. Rainwater management could include a rain garden. Make it a beautiful rain garden that can be seen from waiting and treatment areas. What if the waiting room included access to a patio overlooking the garden? Sitting outdoors provides a relaxing option for waiting. Rainwater could be captured to irrigate landscaping. Even if a rain garden isn’t an option, interesting landscaping could be watered without using treated water. What if you landscaped with plants requiring no watering? It still can be beautiful. The parking lot is a big heat island. Trees could be planted to provide shade. Treetops moving in the wind under the big blue sky breaks up the monotony of a sea of cars. See how it works?

When you design your green office, you have endless opportunities to impact the environment and your practice in a positive way. Take time to be curious and dream. Brainstorm about how people, process and place work together to create positive or negative experiences for patients, staff, the community and you. Improve it! This is your opportunity to deliver dental care in a special place that considers the environment in a way that is unique to your practice. Why dream in black and white when you can dream green!