Redesigning the Emergency Dental Experience

Area of Focus

At the start of this project my partner and I decided to focus on the emergency dental experience because it seemed that there would be rich information to learn about the patient experience and possible areas of improvements to uncover. Through this project we used a variety of design research methods to understand and improve the experience these dental patients have.



To start learning about the experience that the emergency dental patients went through we were able to interview three people who had previously had a dental emergency. Going into the interview our script was designed to learn more about their thoughts, process and feelings from the time their emergency started until the time they walked through the exam room doors to see the dentist.

Interview Insights

  • Patients may not be answered or properly attended during after-hours emergencies
  • Patients may have trouble communicating before & after seeing the dentist
  • Patients don’t seem to focus on the dental office waiting area

Fly on the Wall Observation

For the Fly on the Wall observation, I thought about leveraging the dental marketing agency I worked at to gain insights. I was able to talk to one of the CEOs at the Dental Marketing agency which I worked at and received permission to listen to our quality assurance dental emergency calls, for my school project. He was eager to learn more about patients’ experience too, and even though he wasn’t sure what insights I could find in these calls, I was given the green light.


For the Fly on the Wall observation I listened to over 25 recorded phone calls. I transcribed the calls and made sure to exclude any identifying information about patients, dental offices, and employee names. My partner and I were then able to talk about my findings and reference my transcriptions as needed.

“Fly on the Wall” Call Insights

  • After asking for directions to the dental office, patients can receive confusing information.
  • Many patients calling are worried about pricing concerns and often end the call without making an appointment.
  • After hours calls that forward to the doctor’s personal phone are answered casually and sometimes confuse patients.
  • Sometimes after hours calls are simply not answered.

Affinity Diagramming


After completing the fly on the wall and interviews, we created an affinity diagram to process our results. The affinity diagram organinzes the information vertically with how difficult a task is or if a task is seen negatively at the bottom and postive/easy tasks at the top. Horizontally we organized it as a timeline of when events happen starting when the dental emergency starts until the patient walk into the dental exam room.

Affinity Diagram Insights:

  • There seems to be a gap of information pertaining to the waiting area experience
  • People’s appointment experiences are clustered on the positive side

Service Blueprint

With the information we gathered with the interviews and calls we created a service blueprint to map out an overvie of the emergency dental. The above image shows what we were able to do with our knowledge from patient interviews. We noticed that the back end information of the blueprint was missing information. So we went on a search for some information at a local dental office.

Were were able to interview Crystal a receptionist/dental assistant at a local dental office. We gained many details of what an emergency dental service looks like from the back end. We showed Crystal our blueprint and had her fill in any gaps there may be and prompted her with questions in order to gain the fullest understanding about the service that she was an expert in.

Current Service Blueprint

The service map shows the current overview of the emergency dental experience. We created this to see if there were any areas that could be improved in the front or back end of the service.

Journey Mapping


John The Teacher:

John is a middle school teacher who is meticulous about this dental hygiene. During his free time he enjoys playing video games and long walks on the beach by himself.


During one of John’s frequent walks, he slipped on a seashell and broke his front tooth. Back in his car he searches for an emergency dentist.

Our journey map walks through what John the Teacher would be thinking, feeling, and doing through out his dental emergency.

Potential Improvements

Creating this journey map helped us in understand and think about multiple aspects that make up an emergency dental experience for a patient. However, one potential improvement to this journey would be to base our persona and scenario more closely to what we learned during the interviews. Having John slip on a sea sea shell may have made us giddy during the journey map building process, but a better scenario based of an interview would have further grounded us in what a patient goes through. This could also carry over into the our John persona.


After gathering and analyzing all the data from the past couple of weeks, we began to brainstorm solutions using a mind map to organize our ideas. Starting off we thought “no idea is a bad idea.”

Improved Service Blueprint

The final solution we created has two parts.

Outsourcing Phone Calls

The first part of the solution included outsourcing after-hours phone calls that dental offices receive, so emergency dental patients are always answered and attended in some form. We also decided to create a phone conversation flow that the after-hours employees could follow, so patients receive a comparable service.


The second part of our solution was to create a better way for patients to get questions answered between appointments. This would be done with the assistance of chatbots. After an appointment is sent, a text message would be sent containing appointment confirmation as well as a prompt to ask any further question. The chatbot would be smart enough to answer frequently asked question such as some of the ones we identified:“How much does —- cost”; “Do you take —- insurance.” The text services would also send google maps directions so patients can easily navigate to their appointment. There would also be the potential of forwarding question beyond the scope of the chatbot to dental staff.

Usability Tests

Since our solution was not a tangible UI, we had to get a bit creative. To test our chatbot and improved conversation we decided that one of us would have to act as the phone attendant/chatbot while the other conducted the usability test.

Solution Video