When George Verghese, MD, made the decision to open his new dermatology practice, the Mid-Atlantic Skin Surgery Institute in Waldorf, Maryland, he knew he wanted his office to reflect his commitment to quality.

“The physical space in which I practice is just as much a reflection of me as is the actual care I provide my patients,” Verghese says.

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In every profession, creating a strong identity and branding of the business can make the difference between success and failure. Designing an office that not only functions seamlessly, but also is a great environment to work in for the doctor and the staff while also reflecting the uniqueness of the practice, is a smart investment in the future and a large factor in its long-term success.

Seamless integration of the branding identity—as the two-dimensional extension of the three-dimensional space itself—assures a clear message on all levels and is best achieved concurrently with the space design, rather than as an afterthought (which is typically the case).

Because potential patients are unable, in most instances, to immediately quantify the quality of the care provided by the doctor, they rely on other clues to assure them that they are in good hands. The quality and attention to detail in the built environment (the office space itself, the updated and modern equipment, the lighting of the space, the comfort the patient feels while waiting for treatment, as well as the comfort felt while being treated) are as important as the quality of the treatment they get from the doctor and staff.

Just as important as the quality of the built environment and other sensory experiences—e.g., how the patients are greeted when they arrive, the kind of music they hear while they are on hold on the phone, etc.—are the visual materials that the practice uses to introduce and represent itself to the public. These materials, starting with the practice logo, begin to create a strong visual brand for a practice that sets it apart from competition. The understanding of brand value early on can make the difference between doing well and doing great.

Everything that is sent out to, or being seen by, the public matters. These items become the ambassadors of a practice at any given moment.

Identity brand ambassadors for the practice include: 

  • Business cards;
  • Letterhead and envelopes that the practice uses for written communication;
  • Announcements sent to the public on various occasions (relocation announcement, holiday wishes, personal cards, advertising, banners or posters for fundraisers or other events that promote the name and good aura that the practice builds, etc.); and
  • The practice website—as a general rule, the site should have a simple and clever design that allows a potential new or existing patient to easily navigate through it to find information. 

It is important that all these materials are well coordinated and send a consistent message to the public. The branding of the practice needs to be both smart and appropriate to the field of practice, appealing to the potential patients’ demographic that it is hoping to attract.

Another important element is introducing the personal factor of who the doctor is and his or her level of expertise in the field. The common concept of seeing the neighborhood doctor or dentist for routine care no longer applies. In this Internet age, patients do extensive research to find the best doctor with the most experience for their treatment.

If the branding of your practice as the place to go to is weak, potential patients may bypass your practice and go to another office that has done a better job identifying itself as capable of offering the services they are looking for. There is potential to lose a patient to another better-branded company, even if you are a better doctor than the competition. All these elements need to be incorporated in the mix while the branding of the practice is being created or strengthened.

Case Studies:

Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute

Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute is the flagship practice for an established and nationally recognized cosmetic surgeon. The project occupies a little more than 2,500 square feet on the entry level of a new medical office building in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax, Virginia.

The doctor had four main goals for the space. First was to create a functional office that serves as a showplace and establishes the marketing and branding identity of the practice. Second was to make the most of his highly visible location and, third, to design the space to serve a variety of patient interactions: consultations, skincare patient visits, surgical follow-ups, and in-office procedures. Finally, the fourth objective was to allow for seminar and event hosting in the space, rather than having to book an off-site conference room.

 The facility includes a large reception area and a conference room off the lobby for consultations, meetings, and presentations. The conference room wall is a moveable glass partition that opens to allow the entire entry area to serve as a seminar space. The balance of the space houses a series of skincare and exam rooms, a procedure room, and utility spaces, as well as private offices for the doctor and support staff. Ultimately, it is a space about vision and beauty.

Surfaces are polished, yet natural. Striated porcelain tile flooring, venetian plaster walls in the corporate colors, wool and silk area rugs, and sculptural and photographic wall panels all interact with the natural daylight that permeates the space through glass interior partitions. There is a visual layering of spaces both in the horizontal and vertical planes emphasizing the sense of openness to the space and providing for visual interplay between materials and spaces. 

"Offering patients except
ional results is not the only prerequisite to having a successful cosmetic practice. At the Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute, we focus on the complete patient experience from the moment the phone is answered to the moment the patient walks into our office to thoroughly following up with him or her after their procedure. Our office design has substantially contributed to our practice's goal of offering each patient an exceptional experience from beginning to end. The open and uncluttered design makes patients feel relaxed and at ease, and allows our staff to mix and mingle with them as they wait to get their procedure done."
—George Bitar, MD, FACS


Bloō Dental

When interviewing the dentist during the schematic phase of the project, it became apparent that, apart from dentistry, his passion was scuba diving. His wife commented on how hard it was to convince him to wear anything but blue, so blue water became the core inspiration for both the design of the space and branding of the practice. Drawing from the dictionary pronunciation of “blue,” Bloō Dental was born.

The family dentistry practice in Brambleton, Virginia, specializes in the treatment of both adults and children. The challenges in designing the space were both logistical and aesthetic. The space planning focused on accommodating two distinct practices within a single space sharing support functions. The interior design and architectural detailing focused on creating an environment interesting to the wide-ranging clientele, while reflecting the inspiration of the sea without being a trite literal interpretation.

The office is organized into two wings separated by a central core containing sterilization and X-ray areas. The lobby forms a perpendicular entry zone that established two waiting area wings for adults and children, both with access to the administrative areas. The underwater theme was expressed in the curved wave forms of the defining walls and ceilings, the abstract reflected water images on the privacy film of the glass partitions and accent wallcovering, and the carved sea-pod wall panels throughout the space.

White floors of textured rubber and cool white walls contrast with the deep blue accents to create a dazzling effect. The reception area video wall of moving water sets the tone as one enters the suite. The concept and design vocabulary work together to create an exciting and efficient space for the doctor and staff, and their patients of all ages.

“I always wanted an office that is modern and atypical in design. Though I personally really enjoy coming to work every day, the space design itself helps our patients feel less stressed about coming to the dentist. Some have noted that “it's like walking into a luxurious spa.” The design of the office has been a practice-builder for us in many ways: We've been featured in multiple publications, patients refer others after experiencing the office, and the design of the space itself reinforces the notion that we care about their comfort and are very meticulous on every level with the care we provide. Most people fear going to the dentist, and I really feel that we've changed that notion to the point that our patients actually look forward to their visits here.” 
—Dr. Hares Rahim, DMD


Capital Oral and Facial Surgery Center

The commission was to design a flagship surgery center in Washington, D.C., for a successful oral and maxillofacial practice that was relocating and expanding. 

The project was driven by three main goals: to establish a unified practice identity, building on the past history of the office, and setting the stage for future growth; to create a space that serves both the core practice of the surgery center while also accommodating educational seminars and conferences hosted by the doctor and management staff; and, finally, to capitalize on the opportunity presented by this expansion to examine work processes and patient interaction in order to produce a space custom-tailored to the practice's work and patient flows. It was important that the space reflected the doctors Asian heritage without being trite or cartoonish. 

Themes established in the design process include: the introduction of curved forms, ranging from the circular reception area to the asymmetrical cloud-lift motif in the cantilevered reception desk, and the introduction of contrasting natural and polished materials in the flooring and walls throughout, as well as the elliptical conference room surrounded by an inset of pebbles evoking a Zen rock garden.

The spaces are evocative of an Asian aesthetic while maintaining a modern approach to space and materials. Organizationally, the spaces are arranged to provide a unidirectional flow for patients while allowing free movement of the staff along the secondary corridor that parallels the patient rooms. 

In addition to the architecture, the project included re-branding of the practice with a new logo and collateral materials as well as a signage, furniture, and artwork package, all designed around building a strong brand identity.

“My current space is amazing! The floor plan is spacious (I can see from one end to the other), functional, and has lots of natural light. The patient flow problem that plagued my old office is now non-existent. My patients love the space; they constantly tell me that they feel completely at ease when they come here. My staff love the space; there is space to have meetings and handle the day-to-day aspects of running the business. Most of all, I love the space. It's the office I always dreamed of having. Since opening the new space, we have seen an increase in overall business as well as lots of visitors who have heard about the space and want a tour.”
—D. Virginia Lee, DMD


Obeid Dental

Occupying a coveted street level corner location in a high-rise office building on busy Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland, gave this 1600-square-foot prosthodontics office a million-dollar street presence. The doctor—young, handsome, a sports car driver, cutting-edge all the way— wanted an office that reflected his progressive persona and practice, and that pushed the envelope on all levels. Totally  paperless, all digital, with the latest in technology throughout, Obeid Dental caused a splash as soon as it opened, when CNN immediately approached the doctor for an interview.  

The office is ultimately about precision and detail reflective of the care and attention the doctor dedicates to his patients. With an atmosphere of openness not often found in medical offices and an unexpected modern material pallette, there is little about the space that is traditionally "dental.”  

Walking through the space during the daytime, with the abundant daylight streaming in from all directions and highlighting the contrast of smooth polished surfaces and rough stone wall, makes for a sophisticated, soothing, and cheerful environment. Come nighttime, the space could be mistaken for a cool, clubby go-to spot that just happens to be a successful dental clinic.

“My designers helped me create a complete brand identity for my practice. They provided a single source for everything: from the planning and the architecture to working with equipment vendors I selected, designing the logo, the graphics, the website, the signage, and furnishings throughout, down to the accessories. They really understood what I wanted to achieve and worked with me to make it a reality. The response to the space has been fantastic!”
—Youssef Obeid, DDS, FACP


Mid-Atlantic S
kin Surgery Institute

High ceilings, sculptural bulkheads, sandblasted glass walls, splashes of color that animate the all-white shell, and the soothing murmur of a waterfall in the reception area set the tone the moment you step into this 5,000-square-foot dermatology clinic. Located in an outer suburb of Washington, D.C., the practice intends to draw on the exurban crowd that normally travels into the city for treatment, while also appealing to patients from the urban center. The practice provides MOHS surgery and dermatological care, as well as cosmetic procedures. 

As a new practice, the project provided an opportunity to start with a blank slate in creating a cutting-edge yet accessible office tailored to the needs of the medical staff and patients. Much of the layout was driven by the lab-intensive nature of the skin cancer surgery process. Access to, and monitoring of, lab functions from each operatory is an important functional requirement. The office is organized around the lab/staff core that traverses the space, connecting the front and rear perimeter corridors.

This physical connection is made visual through the use of glass partitions. This transparency aids in explaining the process to patients as well as capitalizing on the office's second-story corner location by allowing daylight into the circulation paths and interior treatment rooms. From anywhere within the clinic, the views to the outside and the natural light throughout create an uplifting feeling as opposed to the usual sterile and clinical environments patients are accustomed to. 

“Our design professionals helped us create an open space filled with natural light and relaxing curves. The design meets all our functional requirements as a surgical Mohs lab. Our patients notice the waterfall; the clean, bright atmosphere, and get a sense of comfort. They appreciate the extra effort into detail that transforms their appointment into a five-star experience. We received multiple awards for the project and are thrilled with the result.”
—George K. Verghese, MD, FAAD, FACMS


Andreas Charalambous, AIA, IIDA is the Principal of FORMA Design Inc. For more information, please visit www.FORMAonline.com.