By Danny Chan
Most dentists who have been running the same clinics for over 20 years are happy to maintain their practices the old, familiar way. Apart from the occasional improvement –changing a new handpiece or autoclave unit – everything else tends to remain status quo. Others like Assoc. Professor Phillippe Zimet, do it differently. Whether it is in pursuit of modernizing the practice or adopting cutting edge technology, Zimet belongs to a small minority of baby-boom-era practitioners who view – and embrace – change as a constant.
The Specialist Endodontist recently converted his 25-year-old practice into a state-of-the-art facility that would impress even his younger peers. Beyond giving the clinical building a complete facelift, the dentist – also the Lead in Endodontics at La Trobe University – updated his practice with the latest tools of the trade and supporting technology in communications and IT.
The Phillippe O Zimet Specialist Clinic was established in Victoria’s Dandenong in the mid-80s, years before the South Eastern suburb became part of Melbourne’s fastest growth corridor. Today, the Clinic sits on prime real estate, surrounded by a sprawling commercial center that is home to one of the largest activity CBDs outside of central Melbourne. Last year, Phillippe and his wife Marilyn, who is also the Practice Manager, commissioned a 12-month renovation project that would see to the complete overhaul of the entire building. Extensive reconstruction involved adding a floor to the existing single-story structure; tearing down and repartitioning walls; as well as stripping out old equipment and reinstalling new ones.
The practice was housed in an old building that had undergone multiple renovations over the years. It had been 10 years since the last major renovation but this time around, a higher goal was set. Marilyn explains:
“Each renovation addressed the issues of the day without really addressing the issue of space and new technology. Over the last few years there have been substantial changes and improvements in patient care due to integration of new technology both from a clinical and administrative point of view.
“It also became obvious that what was new technology only a few years ago was superseded and no longer cutting edge. Associated with this was Phillippe’s desire to participate further in teaching. Thus the desire to create “new” rooms with cutting edge technology maximizing the efficiency and efficacy of delivery became the primary consideration. Associated with this was the desire to create not only a clinical center of excellence but also a environment which would allow teaching to be undertaken.”
The Right Partnership
The renovation itself was preceded by years of deliberation before it finally got off the ground. The reason it took as long as it did had to do with ‘finding the right partnership’.
“Whilst the desire to change the status quo may be present for some years, it is not until finding the right partnership that one is prepared and able to venture out of the comfort zone,” says Marilyn.
“It’s about establishing trust and finding a group of people that you have rapport with. We needed building partners who were willing to adapt because they had to work while the center was open. We needed to understand each other’s constraints.”
The right partnership was eventually forged during a fortuitous meeting between Phillippe and Phil Earl, the owner of Dentec. Initial discussions with the dental fitout and equipment installations firm had established a set of criteria defining requirements for a specialist dental practice in the 21st century.
Following discussions with Phil Callant of Callant Builders, it was decided that the only way to meet both the practice’s current as well as future demands was to add an extra story to the premises. This effectively raised the construction process to another level of complication. As the concepts grew in scope and magnitude, more people were involved: Murray Dagley from Higher Reason and Bill Kambour from Central Communications were roped in to develop the IT, audiovisual, and security requirements of the project.
Before a single brick could be laid, Marilyn had first to plan the entire project to exacting detail. The planning process was to be as comprehensive as possible, so that project management was more about ensuring the timelines of delivery. While mapping out schedules for the various contractors, Marilyn had to make sure that the renovation did not hinder the practice during operational hours.
“It was only after we became thoroughly comfortable that all parties in the building process were able to work with us and also together that the actual building process was commenced. The planning phase took nearly twelve months to coordinate all aspects of the redevelopment.”
Apart from two and a half weeks of down time for parts of the renovation that directly affected the practice, the clinic continued its daily operations throughout the entire building process. The first seven weeks were mainly reserved for adding the second story. Work areas had to be cordoned off as builders mounted scaffoldings to access their site on the second level, while the clinic below was abuzz with patients and procedures. This scenario would not be possible without a meticulous plan – and of course, a building team that diligently followed it. Marilyn testifies:
“The builders were extraordinarily respectful. They came in at six every morning – that is two hours before the clinic opens. By the time our staff arrive to set up for the day, you would find them sweeping and vacuuming to make sure that general cleanliness in the clinic area was maintained.
“They also kept work that would either interfere with our daily operations – for example, those that require the water or electricity to be cut – or produce excessive noise and dust to after clinical hours.”
As the main equipment supplier, Dentec also provided stellar service in their recommendation of suitable technology tailored to the practice’s needs. High on the equipment priority list was ‘flexibility’.
“Given our realization that nothing is static, the desire to find equipment that allowed some flexibility to integrate future technology to adapt to our current requirements, and most importantly, provide a substantial degree of comfort to patients, who may be in the dental chair for an hour or more, were all of vital importance.”
Marilyn was particularly impressed by Dentec’s resourcefulness in locating a dental chair that could hold up to eight handheld devices on its instrument tray. “Phillippe had been sourcing for a suitable tray for some time, but prior to Dentec’s recommendation of Marus dental chairs, none of the manufacturers were able to accommodate on this request.”
‘Live’ video feeds from the surgery
Fuelled by Phillippe’s passion for continuing education, one of the project’s multi-pronged objectives was to incorporate a teaching facility within the surgical premise.
In addition to main areas designated for the reception, sterilization and clinical aspects of the practice, the double story building also boasts a video conferencing room that doubles as a training center for continuing education. The main surgery houses an operating microscope, which is wired to the conference room, thereby allowing ‘live’ video transmission of an ongoing procedure to a captive audience of dental trainees. As opposed to having limited space in the surgery during a chairside demonstration, the generous size of the video conferencing room makes it a suitable location for hands-on training.
Says Phillippe: “This facility was built primarily for general practitioners to learn endodontics. Once we have introduced the concept for endodontics, then hopefully we can make it available to other specialists who may want to make use of the facility to provide continuing education in other dental disciplines.
“With the facility, we are in a position to offer the general practitioner access to tools, technology, equipment and techniques that may otherwise be accessible only to the specialists.”
Those interested in taking up Phillippe’s offer can look forward to a purpose-built clinical environment that boasts an interior design as elegant as it is ergonomic.
Each of the four surgeries is equipped for specialist endodontic work. Despite housing bulky equipment like the operating microscope, the surgeries are roomy and comfortable while neat as a pin. Patients are treated to television entertainment via a ceiling-mounted LCD screen that plays free-to-air programs and DVDs. Where necessary, they can even watch their own procedures while being treated, as the overhead screen relays views of the operating microscope.
Similarly nifty ideas that bring to bear 21st century dentistry can be evidenced throughout the practice. From the glass-windowed treatment rooms to the centralized server hub, you could tell this is not your average suburban clinic. Patients who may not be fully cognizant of the modern dental concepts on display are nevertheless wowed by the chic décor and soothing atmosphere. Feedback thus far has been unequivocally positive. Marilyn shares:
“Many first time patients to the practice volunteer that the atmosphere provided by attentive staff create a warm and inviting atmosphere, especially for those who might feel confronted and daunted by the unknown specialist treatment ahead of them. They are all pleasantly surprised and even happy to attend again.”
Successful completion of the project was the culmination of months of planning, preparation and perspiration. The veteran Practice Manager knows it would not have been possible without the outstanding building team behind it.
“It all comes down to good communication and site management. The builders have very strong work ethics and are always professional. They have every reason to be proud of their quality work.
“We spent a lot of time dreaming and envisioning the renovation before we put pen to paper and choosing those that were going to do the work – introducing and marrying up the team. That was the crucial part of the whole process. If that hadn’t been smooth, the renovation wouldn’t have been such an enjoyable process, of which we were all proud to be a part.”