Redesign your office 'container'

Nov. 1, 2003
Dental hygiene and floral design are seemingly incongruent. What could they possibly have in common? As it turns out — plenty.

By Janet Hagerman

Dental hygiene and floral design are seemingly incongruent. What could they possibly have in common? As it turns out — plenty.

A self-professed continuing education (CE) junkie, I've taken classes for years on everything from clinical dentistry to yoga, photography, and lamp making. In 1981, I discovered Ikebana, the art of Japanese floral design, fell in love with it, and have been a student of it ever since. I even turned my floral hobby and passion into a profession when I developed TLC Floral Designs for special events and taught floral design on TV.

Now, as I've returned to dentistry, it is uncanny how often I recognize similarities between the two, metaphorically speaking. The Japanese are masters of metaphors and it seems as though everything they say and do has some symbolic meaning.

An example of this is the care with which Ikebana designs reflect the four seasons. This can be illustrated in anything from the floral materials selected to the amount of water that shows in the container. A winter design will feature sparse pine with perhaps a few berries. A spring design might utilize flowering branches with spring flowers such as tulips or daffodils. A summer design would have more water showing in the vase to illustrate summer rain showers.

We have seasonality in our dental hygiene careers as well. As I coach dental hygiene teams across the country, I always am delighted to see a veteran hygienist working with a young hygienist fresh out of school, reflecting the spectrum of hygiene seasons. The older hygienist brings years of seasoned experience that no amount of school education can replace. The challenge for the seasoned hygienist is to stay resilient and open to new changes.

The new hygienist brings that bounding energy of the enthusiastic beginner, like a new puppy, wagging its tail and eager to try recently learned skills. The challenge for the new hygienist is to be open to learn from the seasoned hygienist's experiences. In combination, the best of these two seasons can produce a powerful hygiene department.

In Ikebana, unlike traditional American design, the container is every bit as important as the design. It is imperative that the container complements the floral material, providing the foundation both literally and esthetically. Does your dental office "container" reflect your philosophy? I'm often in dental offices that claim they want to be a state-of-the-art practice, yet their basic physical space, the office itself — their "container"— is a wreck, messy, cluttered, downright dirty, totally incongruent with their vision.

Take a look at your office, the container for your practice. Is it squeaky, impeccably clean? Is your equipment current, clean, and in good working order? Has your reception room been decorated tastefully and recently? Many experts recommend re-decorating a dental office once every five to seven years. What is on the walls — pictures of ducks and landscapes, or pictures of beautiful smiles? What are you selling, ducks or beautiful smiles? How does your office, your physical space, your practice "container" reflect your practice philosophy? What does it silently say about you to your patients?

Dr. Mike Koczarski's office, in Woodinville, Wash., features beautiful, hand-blown glass in its reception area. Is it elegant? You bet. That's what they sell, elegant smiles. Dr Brian McKay's office in Seattle, Wash., doesn't even have a "receptionist" desk. Rather, patients are personally greeted in the "living room" before entering airy, spacious treatment rooms with a panoramic view of Mt. Ranier. Does this office reflect their commitment to providing the best for their patients? Absolutely!

Dr. Greg Wyche's office in Irma, S.C., utilizes every single patient pampering idea I've ever seen or heard of, bar none. From aromatherapy to a shoe shine machine in the patient reception room, Wyche's office, the "container," reflects their total commitment to pampering patients.

Is your container a beer mug, a rustic hand made basket or a vase of Waterford crystal? They all work and can work beautifully. The art is in keeping the container clean, attractive, and congruent with your practice vision.

Perhaps one of Ikebana's most distinguishing characteristics is its simplicity, an attention to negative space, an uncluttering. Are your countertops cluttered with every supply imaginable? When was the last time you swept everything off those counters, cleaned them, and replaced only those items that are absolutely necessary and in an attractive manner? Clean out closets and make room for the exciting new supplies you bring back from conventions.

Take a look at your walls. Do you have magazine clips and pictures stapled or taped to your walls? My rule is that nothing goes on the wall that is not in a frame.

Clutter is confusing and builds tension, while negative space is calm and soothing. Unclutter, and create some beautiful negative space for yourself and your patients.

Phi Rullado, a nationally acclaimed floral designer and floral competition judge, said, "Genius lies in attention to detail." This is certainly true in dentistry where our clinical skills are challenged by details daily. But, what about those little details that our patients notice and appreciate? Cris Duvall, hygienist extraordinaire, in Seattle, Wash., sends her patients cards on their elegant office stationery to remind them when to start using a fresh toothbrush. Talk about customer service!

How about aromatherapy, or a warm scented towel after the prophy jet spray? Does your cancer exam include extraoral head and neck exam with a mini neck and shoulder massage?

What are the details that distinguish you and your practice from the other dental offices down the street? At the next staff meeting, make a list of all the details you can think of that will make your patient experience outstanding and memorable.

Many of these details take very little time, but distinguish you as the practice that cares enough to pay attention to the details that make a difference. These are also the very details that increase patient value for their dental experiences resulting in less no-shows and broken appointments.

Go ahead, treat yourself and your patients to a bit of pampering attention to detail. Check out your office "container" and change it to reflect the message you want to send to your patients. Unclutter! Enjoy your own personal "season" and learn from the seasons of others. Buy, or make a floral bud vase and put it in your operatory each Monday. You'll feel like a new you in your new environment and bring a breath of fresh air to your patient experience.

Janet Hagerman, RDH, BS, is a speaker, author, and coach for Hygiene Mastery. For a complimentary assessment of your hygiene department potential, call (888) 347-4785 or email [email protected].