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Signs Reduce Anxiety in Dental Patients

Signs make for good feng shui. Feng Shui is designed to bring harmony between humans and their environment. Where better to feel harmony than in the dental office!

I was going to do a consultation for a dental practice client. As part of my consultation, I want to know how a client experiences with the dental practice. This includes what I see en route to the office. How easy is it to find the office building while driving or walking, finding parking, and then locating the office within the building? Any of these experiences can be pleasant, neutral, stressful or a mix thereof. Each one of these emotions singly and cumulatively effect the patient before they get into the dental chair.

As I drove up the building, I saw a plaque on the building that was hard to read. I felt unsure that this was the right building. I expected to see a larger sign, but my expectations were not met. (Why this matters: The feelings generated before entering the office color how I view, and will recall, my experience with the practice.)

There was no sign at the front door for the dental office. I assumed the building had more than one tenant because the dental practice name was not on the door or the building. Neighboring buildings of the same design each had business names prominently displayed over the entranceway. My uncertainty about being in the right place was growing; I felt increasingly anxious. Was I going to be late? The glass entry doors were locked, which is highly uncommon for a commercial building in this area. There was a button and keypad with no name on it contributing to my sense that I was at a business office that did not receive many visitors during the day. Peering inside, the marble floors, muted striped wall covering, and mahogany furniture I could see gave no indication of a dental office; the space looked more like a private banking firm or upscale law firm’s offices.

I am about to call the dental practice to find out where they are when a woman inside the office came to the door to let me in. I fully anticipated her telling me that I was at the wrong address. (At this point I am completely distracted from the reason for my visit to the practice, and consumed by feeling lost and trying to find the office. Why this matters: changing mind states takes time and energy. Staying focused on one task at a time nets the best results and is pleasurable and efficient from a brain perspective. My reptile brain is now running the show, so it will take some time to transition to my mammalian thinking brain. In essence, it’s as if I’m racing around frantically trying to find a way in and unable to formulate the best ways to achieve the goals of the practice.)

It turns out that I was at the correct address. The dentist [not my client] who had designed this space was a design maven who used with silk wall coverings, elaborate crown moldings, expensive draperies, and furniture. Once inside the sprawling 9,000 square foot space, the lack of signage helped maintain my anxiety level. Without a staff person directly me, I would not know where to sit and wait for my appointment, where to hang my coat, where the rest room was. Since a staff person was not always available, the same feeling of being lost that I had outside the building continued inside.

The experience was invaluable: I had experienced the obstacles and stressors patients would have as they tried to find this office and tried to find their way one inside. The solution was obvious: place signs on the building that are visible from the curb, signs indicating how to get in to the office at the front door, and signs inside for waiting room, coat and rest rooms. (Why it matters: anxious patients are harder to work on. The patient isn’t happy and it’s stressful for the clinical staff. Making simple changes to the environment that can minimize patient anxiety is good practice on all counts.)

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