Whether you are opening a lab or moving your office, the floor plan of your dental laboratory is important for establishing efficiency and comfort in your practice. You don't necessarily need more square footage to create a great work space. Before beginning your design, outline the goals you have and speak to staff and patients to get feedback. The best floor plan follows the natural flow of the workplace process and leaves no wasted space. You may also want to consult a professional design team to help you implement your ideas.
Create an itemized list of the spaces your dental lab requires. Include a waiting room, restrooms, an x-ray room, examination area and a private office for consultations as your starting point. Many offices also include a play area, check-in desk, sterilization area, lab, staff restroom, staff lounge or break room and supply closets. Prioritize based on your needs and the space available. With efficient use of space, you can operate a lab in as little as 1100 square feet, though some are as large as 6000.
Shadow a patient (or reenact the process) from reception to payment. Observe another working dental laboratory if you haven't opened your office yet. Follow staff as they collect patient information, take patients back for cleanings and direct people out. Take careful note of any hang-ups or hiccups in the process, including heavy traffic in small areas, disorganization or patients who become disoriented. These indicate areas that need careful focus in the redesign. Also, do a walk-through of your office area after-hours, with space utilization in mind. If you encounter any areas which don't serve a specific purpose, for example, "standing while viewing x-rays" or "moving from examination to office," consider how else the area could be used to fix some of the problems you encountered earlier; you may be able to incorporate a work-station or a filing cabinet in these types of spaces.
Measure your furniture and equipment and employ space-saving techniques. One place to cut clutter is the reception area. Instead of using a large table in the center of the room to hold magazines, invest in several small end-tables. By placing one between every few chairs, you open up the middle of the room and give yourself the option to make two squares of seating instead of one large one. Design desks to work back-to-back in the processing and office areas. By using narrow desks, you can increase floor space. Use rolling carts to transport samples, cleaning supplies and x-rays in lab areas. Unlike shelves, these give your staff flexible space when they need it.
Draw a rough floor plan for your laboratory. Use the research you've done to determine what function each space should serve, and how much room that function requires. Create a scale (for example, one inch equals one foot) and re-create your office layout on a large sheet of grid paper. Add walls, furniture and equipment. The space encountered directly after entering should be labeled "reception." For most offices, the door from reception leads to an open examination area with several chairs. To the sides are labs, x-ray rooms and storage closets. Their size and location depends on how they are used and with what frequency. Ideally, staff-only areas and private offices should be located at opposite corners of the laboratory outside of patient traffic.
Put sterilization and other commonly-used rooms in a central location for easy access.
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