Building a Surgery to Last

When you invest in a new surgery fitout, one of the main considerations is longevity. Often we see expensive surgery fit outs that are beautifully designed and look very glamorous when the surgery opens, only to deteriorate quickly over the next 2 years. We also see dentists outgrow their new surgery in relatively short timeframes.

Most new surgeries open with one or two chairs, and a plan to expand as their customer base grows over the next 12 months. It is important to know where money can be saved, and where a relatively small expense at the time of building can save many thousands at a later date.

Ensure you design and build all IT infrastructure to allow expansion later. Grid ceilings are inexpensive and allow low cost increase of power and cabling at a later date. Running conduits under the floor to cabinetry locations is very inexpensive and facilitates low cost connections to extra equipment when required.

In contrast, chairs and joinery for additional treatment rooms can be ordered and installed later with little additional expense, provided that provision has been made for connections.

There is always a temptation to design eye-catching, ‘wow-factor’ waiting and reception areas. Recent research shows that friendly reception staff and familiar surroundings are higher contributing factors to acceptance of the treatment plan and overall patient satisfaction. Classic designs withstand the test of time and will look professional for years, maybe decades, to come. Whites and earth tones are the best choice with perhaps a small feature that can be updated at little cost in due course. It’s important to distinguish between a workspace that maximises patient comfort and overall profitability, and an architectural work of art. The most successful dentists seem to have functional practices, but save breathtaking architecture for their homes.

Dental cabinetry is a significant expense in the fitout process. Good cabinetry is an investment that can possibly last your whole working life. Check for construction with water resistant plinths and modules. A dental specific cable management system should also be incorporated within the cabinets to allow for easy installation of IT and electrical services both now and in the future. Laminate finishes for doors and benchtops are cost effective and last many years without deteriorating. The modern selection of finishes is almost unlimited and includes high gloss, metallic, satin, woodgrain and many others.

Don’t cut costs on flooring. Spend your money on the right flooring the first time. Ensure you have a slip rating of R9 or R10. This gives you sufficient grip for patient safety whilst enabling easy cleaning and maintenance. Again, choose classic colours that match other elements to make sure you don’t need to change the colour of the floor in a few years’ time. It is vital to double check with your supplier that the floor is commercial use rated and can withstand the high heels of your female patients without damage.  Replacement of flooring is particularly expensive, requiring removal and reinstatement of chairs and electrical connections, normally on a weekend.

Consider staff amenities and parking when planning for expansion. As your practice grows, additional dentists will need additional assistants and perhaps another receptionist. The small lunchroom that was perfect for a staff of 3 can become uncomfortable for a staff of 8. Good staff facilities are vital for attracting and retaining quality staff, so err on the side of caution when designing the room sizes for the fitout. It is not uncommon for new surgery DA’s to show a ‘storeroom’ on the plans, which later becomes a treatment room. This strategy navigates a path through the Council’s parking requirements per practitioner (sometimes up to 3 spaces). However, ultimately a smooth parking experience for patients is very important. Lack of safe, convenient parking spaces can easily drive mothers and other patients to another dentist. Again, plan ahead and plan to succeed.

If you ever need or wish to sell your practice, it will almost invariably be sold to a practitioner who is planning to grow. Practices that are bursting at the seams are less attractive than practices that are ‘pre-wired’ for expansion and increased turnover. In most cases, money that you spend on good foundations within the surgery is more than recovered in the event of a sale.

Some practical advice from an experienced specialist at the time of installation will see you in fine stead to maximise your returns well into the future.