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Could Your Dental Office Be a Design Competition Winner?

by Gavin Shea | 02/02/2011 | Office Design & Construction , Dental

If you?re planning to build, expand or remodel your dental practice, think how great it would be to have a library of outstanding dental office designs available to review for ideas and inspiration. And once your practice is completed, wouldn?t it be rewarding to receive recognition from your peers for the excellent planning you?ve put into your design?

All this is available through the Dental Office Design Competition (DODC) sponsored by Wells Fargo Practice Finance, Dental Economics, and ADA Business ResourcesSM.  DODC competition winners are selected and showcased every year at the ADA annual meeting, and a library of past DODC winners (including images of their design solutions and floor plans) can be found at 

But how does the design competition work, and is it structured to be fair?  Could your dental office be a design competition winner? 

We?ve interviewed each of the DODC judges to answer these questions and discover exactly what makes a winning dental practice design. For valuable information about completing the DODC entry form, as well as additional input from the judges about each of the competition categories, see the article Tips For Submitting Your DODC Entry. 

DODC: An Inspiration to Assist New Doctors

North Iowa Oral Surgery Associates - 2014 DODC - Outstanding Specialty Practice

The Dental Office Design Competition was initiated in 1999 as part of a learning symposium offered byMatsco, now Wells Fargo Practice Finance. Working with doctors seeking financing for their new practice purchase or start-up, Matsco recognized that many new practitioners were unsure where to turn for help in defining their practice vision. The design competition was considered an excellent way to showcase well-designed offices as an inspiration and learning tool for dentists contemplating building or remodeling their own practice.

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 health care disciplines was selected to help develop a judging process that was objective and fair.

The DODC judging formula has proven both effective and reliable: 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.

The current panel of seven DODC judges includes two architectural planners who are also dentists, two interior designers specializing 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.

What Determines a Design Competition Winner?

According to DODC judge Pat Carter, Interior Designer and owner, PDG-Practice Design Group, ?We?ve always been concerned that some people think the winner is simply the one who spent the most money. It can?t be denied that if you invest more money you might have a better chance of doing some things that are more true to your aesthetics. But what we have been pleased about is that it isn?t typically the one spending the most who wins.?

So who does win?  The judges were remarkably consistent in expressing what they?re looking for in a winning practice. Here are the key factors in determining Dental Office Design Competition winners:

Achieves Functional Balance

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 Dr. Gregory R. Liberatore, DDS, 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 things as far as design in my view. 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.?

Meets Stated Objectives

Every judge stated that winning practices demonstrate through their narrative and photographs that their 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 Dr. Jeff Carter, DDS, 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.?

Utilizes an Effective Floor Plan

Several judges expressed that the floor plan submitted with the DODC application tells a good part of the story of whether the design is ultimately successful.

Judge Mike Unthank, DDS, Owner & 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, DDS, 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.?

According to Geri True, Director of Interior Design, Unthank Design Group, ?The appropriate use of space and attention to function need to be the underlying concerns for every aspect of the design.?

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 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 also 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.?

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??

So attention to functional balance, successfully meeting stated objectives, using an effective floor plan, incorporating updated technology, and creating a professional presence all contribute significantly to the determination of winners in the Dental Office Design Competition. Perhaps your practice could already be a winner! 

For valuable information about completing the DODC entry form as well as additional quotes from the judging panel on the specific competition categories, see Tips For Submitting Your DODC Entry.

Gavin Shea
Gavin Shea is the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at Wells Fargo Practice Finance. Gavin has over 17 years of financial experience helping practitioners start, grow, and transitions their practices through a diverse array of financial products and services.

All practice financing is subject to credit approval. Business Refinance Program is for business term debt only. Revolving credit and existing Wells Fargo Practice Finance debt are not eligible for consolidation.

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