How an Office Remodel Has Made a Big Difference

When the Center for Oral Surgery and Dental Implants set about renovating its business office a few years ago, it had a piece of good luck. It was able to retain an interior designer who knew just how its oral surgeons worked because she—Julie B. Billups, DDS—was one of them. She was retiring from the practice and returning to art and interior design, in which she was originally trained. Fulfilling her design scheme, the practice had architectural drawings and construction estimates for work that was scheduled for February and March 2020.

When the pandemic hit that March, it not only halted construction plans, but also raised questions about how future office design might need to be different to accommodate new public-health needs. But by late 2022, the planned remodel was back on track. “We had our estimates from 2019,” says Emily Van Heukelom, DDS, “and we had a good idea of how commodity prices had changed in the interim.”

Work finally went forward last October, and it had to tackle several problems. In the office’s open-air layout, managers weren’t sitting near people they supervised. Three or four employees sat in the main desk area: one checking patients in, another checking them out, and one or two handling scheduling and insurance. But they overheard each other too easily, there were too many interruptions and distractions, and the employee break room wasn’t in a handy location.

Before the renovation, the practice spent a year studying kaizen, the Japanese principle that says making tiny improvements in repetitive processes can add up to a significant change. COSDI’s leaders also realized there were things office employees knew better than they did. “I didn’t know, for example, the specifics of the repetitive motions you make when you assemble charts for the week,” says Dr. Van Heukelom. “So we started, four or five years ago, asking our employees about their workflow.”

Thanks to sound planning, there were few missteps. “The only hiccups,” says Dr. Van Heukelom, “were a couple of times they had to turn off either power or water to the whole building, which is shared with other medical practices. We tried to plan those ahead, but a construction schedule is never exactly what you map out at the beginning.”

Today the checkout person has better access to patients checking out. Three-quarter-height, sound-absorbing partitions that interrupt lines of sight have helped to reduce distractions. Because different people use desks at different times of day and even the same people need to change position, special ergonomic “stand-sit” desks have replaced the previous desks.

Thanks to the recent remodeling, practice employees now

  • are more efficient. The new desks, for example, make it much easier to work from two computer screens at once. That has reduced the time it takes to process insurance claims. While on hold with one insurer, an employee can work on another claim on the second screen.
  • find it easier to be HIPAA-compliant. Staffers were conscientious about HIPPAA rules before the remodeling, but sometimes an employee would need to call a patient back later rather than take a call right away, for example, in order to avoid discussing private information out loud within earshot of other patients. Today the sound-absorbing barriers and better organization of space make it easier to guard patient privacy—saving time. “If a practice is considering any type of renovation, it should keep HIPAA in mind,” Dr. Van Heukelom advises.
  • are more comfortable. The new ergonomic, height-adjustable computer monitors and the more rational deployment of office space have won rave reviews from employees, creating better morale and the prospect of reduced turnover. That’s good for the practice, and it’s good for patients too. “Overall,” says Dr. Van Heukelom, “people are happier and have a more pleasant voice and demeanor when they interact with co-workers or patients.”