Today, patients need to feel safe above all else. Health-care designer Melissa Sprau explains how to quickly and affordably rethink your practice’s look and put patients at ease.

Melissa Sprau Benco Dental

MELISSA SPRAU, NCIDQ manages Benco Dental’s team of CenterPoint designers. A graduate of Moore College of Art & Design, she has more than 12 years of experience in facilities planning for a large health-care system and interior design with several architecture firms.

THERE ARE TWO KINDS of patients right now: those who are in pain or for whom treatment can’t wait, and those who are still wondering whether it’s safe to resume non-emergency care. Depending on where your practice stands in terms of reopening, the former is probably filling your appointment books right now, while the latter is going to be a challenge for months, or maybe even a year or two. I know firsthand; my husband is a dentist.

I also know about what hospitals do to make patients feel safe and protected, having worked for a large health-care system before joining Benco Dental. Determining patients’ physical and emotional needs, and then addressing them, has largely been an evolutionary process . . . until now. Covid-19 immediately turned the design of dental practices upside down, with less emphasis on an open feel and more on aerosol containment and air quality, and an immediate need to effectively address the look of the environment so it appears as clean as it is.

Let’s start with the reception area. It may be sanitary and spotless, but if patients can’t visually confirm that it is, they might feel unsafe. Luckily, less is more amid Covid-19, and you can make quick, inexpensive changes to tide you over until coffee bars, magazines and cushy chairs make a comeback.

First, eliminate any surfaces that can’t be wiped down. Cloth, leather and wood surfaces are out. Plastic, vinyl, glass and laminate are in. The colors of your floors and walls can probably remain the same, but sticking to white, metallic or light-colored seating surfaces makes it easy to see any dirt and wipe it away so everything is clearly spotless when patients arrive. More good news: You’re going to need less seating due to social distancing, so a few vinyl-upholstered chairs and an accent table or two, and you’ll be all set.

Second, while you likely can’t redesign your operatories, you can eliminate visual clutter. Get rid of anything you don’t need so patients can see that you’re not wiping around objects but rather thoroughly cleaning all surfaces. Draperies and decorations that could potentially harbor aerosols should be replaced with hard surfaces that are durable enough to clean often.

Nemschoff Herman Miller

SEATS OF POWER: The affordable Caper chair (right) from Herman Miller stands up to EPA-registered cleaning protocols, while the Nemschoff Valor (left) has a manufactured-in antimicrobial treatment that kills 99.99 percent of microbes.

Finally, you’ve likely already installed plexiglass barriers in areas such as your front desk and perhaps your consultation room (assuming it accommodates proper social distancing). Make sure your plexiglass is spotless—anything from specks to finger marks to unclassifiable schmutz will make patients uneasy and question your protocols. Eliminate clutter here as well as much as possible.

Covid-19 has likely taken a financial toll on your practice, but luckily, transforming it visually requires a modest investment at most. Doing so will help you successfully welcome back uneasy patients by providing necessary reassurance that resuming regular care is the right decision.