The Rise of Corporate Dentistry—and the Demise of the Solo Practice

The corporate dentistry asteroid has hit the earth.  The skies are darkening.  Solo dental practices are declining at a rate of 7% per year.  Independent solo practices may not become extinct—they are always a few contrarians who soldier on—but they are becoming an endangered species.  The 7% rate of decline may not be fixed; it is likely to accelerate.

The consolidation of practices is being driven by the DSO model, an acronym for “Dental Service Organization” or “Dental Support Organization”—the terms are used interchangeably.  DSO’s are relentless in their pursuit of efficiency as driven by technology.

There are 168 hours in a week.  The average solo practice in the United States is open 35 hours per week.  In those 35 hours, the practice has to pay all overhead expenses and generate a profit.  If we focus for the moment only on fixed overhead, the solo practice is strikingly inefficient.  For 133 hours per week, the office is dark.  The fixed overhead meter runs like clockwork, week after week, month after month; but the production needed to offset fixed overhead only occurs during those precious 35 hours when the doors are open to patients.

The average DSO office is open 45 hours per week.  DSO offices usually have more than one dentist working at a time.  If there are just two dentists in a DSO office, and each dentist works 35 hours per week, the DSO office has double the production of the solo office.

With that kind of production power, the DSO can afford to buy the latest technology.  There are nimble solo dentists who make every minute count.  They post impressive production numbers and they also buy up-to-date equipment.  Ultimately, though, the hamster wheel can only spin so fast.  With expanded hours and more dentists, DSO’s have a built-in advantage.

Next blog:  Challenges that DSO’s face.

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Turning the Tables on Corporate Dentistry

Imagine turning the tables on corporate dentistry.  The big guys have mega-advertising budgets, but they cannot match what you have to offer.  The secret is making the distinction.

Don’t get me wrong.  Corporate dentistry is not inherently bad.  There are some fine doctors who provide quality care and who just so happen to work for large corporations.  You, however, probably work in a more traditional fee-for-service model.  I want your voice to be heard over all the noise generated by corporate dentistry advertising.

So that you can clearly communicate the advantages of your practice, here are the key five points you need to make:

  1. When someone comes to your office, they are going to see the same dentist (you!) time after time.  You offer the “warm and fuzzy approach.”  Corporate dentistry is often a revolving door, which means the patient may see a different dentist today than the one they saw last time.
  2. You are not going anywhere. This means you can offer continuity of care.  If a corporate concern closes an office, merges with another company, of just flat goes out of business (and some do), then the patient is left without a dentist.  As a fee-for-service dentist, you are a constant, and that is reassuring.
  3. You and your team are dedicated to the best of both worlds, truly personalized service with state-of-the art technology. You actually get to know your patients and you also stay abreast of the latest advances in dentistry.
  4. In your practice, no one is pressured or rushed. You always take the time to listen to your patients.  People like your warmth and compassion.  No corporate executive is looking over your shoulder and pushing you to see more patients in less time.
  5. You have a thorough but conservative approach to treatment planning and you use only the best materials. While you do not claim to be the discount dentist, you also know that it is never cheaper to do the same procedure twice.  Your goal is to do it once and do it right.

I always enjoy helping fee-for-service doctors get the word out and distinguish themselves from corporate dentistry.  So go ahead.  Make the distinctions.  It’s an important part of patient education that allows you to continue to thrive as a fee-for-service dentist.