By Wells Fargo Practice Finance
• Describe the history of the Dental Office Design Competition and its value to the dental community
• Identify the five key design criteria for well-designed dental practices
• Understand the competition categories and the unique practice characteristics they award
• Know the most important points in effectively completing a DODC entry form so you can gain recognition for your own practice design
By now you probably have many concepts and ideas for your new dental office design — but how do you turn your ideas into a practical, affordable, and functioning office? It’s useful to review what others have done for helpful insights and inspiration, and one of the best resources for viewing well-designed dental practices is the Dental Office Design Competition (DODC). Brought to you by Wells Fargo Practice Finance, Dental Economics, the ADA® and ADA Business ResourcesSM, the DODC recognizes outstanding achievements in dental practice design and showcases competition winners every year at the ADA Annual Session and online at www.practicefinance.wellsfargo.com/dentists/dental-office-design.
Learning how the design competition works and reviewing case studies of previous winners is an excellent way to gain valuable insights into how to focus your design objectives, overcome challenges and make your vision a reality. Who knows — perhaps the knowledge you gain will help your dental practice become a design competition winner!
The Dental Office Design Competition was started in 1999 as part of a learning symposium offered by Matsco, now Wells Fargo Practice Finance. While working with doctors seeking practice purchase or start-up financing, Matsco discovered that many new practitioners were unsure where to turn for help in defining their practice vision. An office design competition proved to be a good way to showcase well-designed offices as an inspiration and learning tool for dentists planning to build or remodel their own practices.
As the competition grew, Matsco joined with Dental Economics magazine and the American Dental Association to formalize and co-sponsor the national Dental Office Design Competition. A panel of judges from the dental practice design, practice management and dental healthcare disciplines was selected to help develop a judging process that was objective and fair.
Every DODC entry receives careful consideration by at least two judges. If a judge has been involved in any way with an entrant — as an architect, designer, consultant or friend — he or she must decline to review that entry. A point system is used to score entries based on a variety of design criteria. All top entries are reviewed by all judges for final determination of winners in each category.
While members of the DODC judging panel rotate periodically, the mix typically includes architectural planners who are also dentists, interior designers specializing in dental practices, technology and equipment consultants who specialize in dental practices, a practicing dentist who has experienced the office design-and-build process, an ergonomic consultant specializing in the dental field, and a dental practice management consultant.
Determining a Design Competition Winner — Five Key Criteria
The Dental Office Design Competition recognizes those dental offices that most effectively express the practice philosophy of the practitioners and demonstrate a thoughtful assembly of design characteristics associated with an up-to-date dental facility.
According to DODC judge Pat Carter, Interior Designer and owner, PDG-Practice Design Group, “We’ve always been concerned that some people think the competition winner is simply the one who spends the most money. What we have been pleased about is that it isn’t typically the one spending the most who wins.”
So who does win? The DODC judges are remarkably consistent in expressing what they’re looking for in a winning practice. Below are the five key factors in determining Dental Office Design Competition winners. How many of these criteria have you included in your practice design?
An office design competition proved to be a good way to showcase well-designed offices as an inspiration and learning tool for dentists planning to build or remodel their own practices.
A functional balance of operational, technological and design features, expressed as the fulfillment of the practitioner’s personal vision, is the overriding element that drives the judges’ pick of winners in each design category.
DODC judge Gregory R. Liberatore, D.D.S., Liberatore Family Dentistry, expresses it this way: “A winning practice needs to incorporate all the principles of architectural design, clinical design and function, and ergonomic issues, and needs to take into account the budgeting of the project and integration of technology. They have to be able to have all of the parts come together in a well-designed project.”
And Pat Carter adds, “Congruency, aesthetics, function — those are the big design elements. In completing the entry form, we’re asking them to express what it is they were trying to do in their remodel, lease space or ground up project. I’m looking to see that the result is congruent with their vision, and that the design appears to solve their stated problems or expand their capabilities. And we’re looking for effective function — we place a lot of value on a well-functioning office.”
2. Meets Stated Objectives
Every DODC judge has stated that winning practices demonstrate through both their narrative and photographs how the chosen design efficiently and effectively addresses the office needs identified by the practitioner. The completed project illustrates that they understood their goal and executed it well.
As DODC judge Jeff Carter, D.D.S., Architectural Planner and owner, PDG-Practice Design Group, states, “Award winners are driven by a compelling vision that they were able to execute in their design and articulate in their competition entry form. We’ll find a thread running through the narrative with these practices — they needed more space, better technology, more functionality, an open, friendly environment — whatever it is, we find that the vision does actually show up in the practice plan and entry photos.”
Dr. Liberatore adds, “Every application gives us an opportunity to see whether the entrant has thought through the design project and understands why they’re doing it. They let us know why they started from scratch, or why they built a free standing office and what went into that. The better they understand it, the better they are at executing the plan. We evaluate whether the outcome successfully met the plan and goals outlined in their entry form.”
3. Utilizes an Effective Floor Plan
Several judges have expressed that the floor plan submitted with the DODC application tells a good part of the story as to whether the design is ultimately successful.
Judge Mike Unthank, D.D.S., Owner and Architect, Unthank Design Group, states, “I basically approach the competition by first looking at the planning to make sure the office performs like a well-oiled machine on behalf of the practitioner. I want to see if it’s an efficient plan laid out in terms of zoning and flow for both the staff and patients, from public to private spaces, and accommodates patients who need privacy.”
John Jameson, D.D.S., Jameson Management Inc., says, “The first thing I look at is the floor plan so I can make sure we have an adequate design that is going to be effective in a long-term utilized facility and will be correct in terms of patient flow and access to necessary equipment and services inside the practice.”
4. Incorporates Updated Equipment
DODC judges are looking to see that the entry is technologically up-to-date with systems that create efficiencies, are safe, and are comfortable for the practice.
According to DODC judge Mary Govoni, dental hygienist and speaker/consultant on dental ergonomics, the most significant improvement in equipment design she has seen over the years is related to patient care. For instance, patient chairs traditionally addressed the patient’s comfort alone. Today’s chairs are comfortable for the doctor and clinical team as well. “In the last several years, more and more practices entering the competition really looked at the best chair design for the entire team rather than just the patient. Everybody’s comfortable now, which means the patient is actually getting better care because the team is less fatigued and more focused.”
Dr. Unthank adds, “The technology functions and treatment settings should all be integrated. Does the practice have the clinical ability to access information, use technology for patient education, entertainment, distraction? I look at all of the support functions in relation to the treatment area, and efficiency from the standpoint of no wasted steps.”
5. Looks Professional and Appealing
And finally, to be selected as a DODC winner, it’s important that the practice has general physical appeal to patients and presents professionally to instill confidence. Dr. Unthank emphasizes, “Patients have no way of evaluating the quality of services they’re receiving. They base their assumptions on other factors, and those that are most influential are tangible. The built environment becomes incredibly important in communicating the quality of the practice. Is there an overall professional presentation to assure the patient’s confidence in the doctor’s abilities?”
Understanding Competition Categories
The Dental Office Design Competition features several unique design categories in which practices can compete. Competition entries are considered for all categories for which they qualify. Below are some of the judges’ thoughts on determining winners in these categories.
Dental Office Design of the Year — Small Practice (1-2 practitioners working regularly in the practice)
• Excels at the five key design parameters for determining a DODC competition winner
• May have a more modest design budget and floor plan
“Entrants will be slightly different because of the physicality of office needs — clinical needs, ergonomic needs, functional needs. We tell practices to look beyond the budget — remember, it’s all to scale.” (DODC judge Dr. Gregory R. Liberatore)
Dental Office Design of the Year — Group Practice (3+ practitioners working regularly in the practice)
• Excels at the five key design parameters for determining a winner
• Successfully meets the challenge of designing more complex work spaces while managing patient and staff flow patterns
“With a large facility we’re looking more closely at patient flow patterns than with a single doctor practice.” (DODC judge Dr. John Jameson)
“We look very carefully at whether or not an appropriate amount of space was used. More space does not necessarily mean a more efficient office.” (DODC judge Geri True, Director of Interior Design, Unthank Design Group)