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Heartland Dental Blog

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How Independent is Your Practice?

Midwinter Meeting Spotlight | A Passion for Dental Knowledge and Empowerment

Midwinter Meeting Spotlight | A Passion for Dental Knowledge and Empowerment


Later this week, dental professionals from across the country will descend on Chicago for the 155th Midwinter Meeting. Starting Thursday, February 20, and wrapping up Saturday, February 22, members of the dental community will gather to learn from leaders in dental...

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Mention the 4th of July, and people immediately begin envisioning cook-outs, flags, and fireworks. It’s a time to celebrate America’s independence and just have some good summer fun.

America’s independence has us thinking a bit about independence and leadership generally for those in the dental field. As a country, we tend to be fiercely independent to begin with. Those that build a dental practice of their own are even more so. Indeed, many people become dentists or dental specialists specifically because they like the idea of “being their own boss” and building their own practice.

But how much freedom does one get owning and running their own practice? For that matter, what is lost, if anything, by affiliating with a dental support organization (DSO)?

The Autonomy Myth of DSO Affiliation

One of the most difficult challenges for DSOs today is the need to dispel some myths about how they work, and what they mean for the autonomy and independence of dentists and dental professionals.

“The biggest challenge is the barrier between dental support organizations and solo practitioners—the questions, stories, and the assumptions that people jump to about dental support organizations,” says DeAnn McClain, executive vice-president of operations for Heartland Dental, in a 2014 interview with the magazine Efficiency in Group Practice.

One of the more common myths has to do with DSOs and supported offices: That affiliation strips away some of the decision-making power the dental professional has when running his or her practice.

In reality, things are different. Though the details of each DSO are different, offices affiliated with Heartland Dental retain a good deal of autonomy. The dentist still leads the office and makes decisions with regard to both patients and teams. What the DSO adds are services to help the operations of the office, as well as ongoing educational and mentoring opportunities.

In fact, many dentists admit that their DSO gives them more autonomy, simply by relieving them of ongoing administrative and marketing tasks that took up their time and prevented their practice from adequately growing.

The DSO Affiliation Strategy

Is affiliating with a DSO right for your practice? First, it helps to understand the DSO affiliation model a little bit.

Many DSOs with an affiliation strategy are interested in finding existing practices, rather than creating new ones from scratch. This is particularly true when there are already successful dental practices in an area: Those practices typically already have a lot of local knowledge and an existing customer base. The DSO, for its part, can start offering its services to the practice sooner.

A DSO might approach local private practices or small dental networks; but, many times, a practice will come to them wanting to discuss the possibilities for affiliation. The DSO will want to assess the local office to see if there is a good “fit” between the dental organization and the practice. If there is, they will enter into a contract outlining the service levels and fees. A good DSO will tailor the affiliation process to you and your needs, so that it is a win-win for everyone.

The affiliation contract can include:

  • Transition Strategies. While many dentists want to actively lead their practice, some are ready to step back. Either way, a good DSO will have procedures in place for making the transition seamless.
  • Management (Non-Clinical) Support. Typical administrative services and procedures to keep the practice running and growing.
  • Clinical Consulting (or Mentorship) from other Supported Dentists. Nothing beats learning from informed experts who have been there before. Some DSOs, like Heartland Dental, feature a broad network of supported dentists and clinical leaders with whom to consult with.
  • Marketing Services and Growth Strategies. Offices affiliated with DSOs have a more solid marketing strategy and tend to do a better job of advertising in their local markets.
  • Employment Scheduling and Contracts. A common complaint of small business owners is that so much time is taken up simply running the business. Affiliation can return some degree of work-life balance when the business-building aspect is outsourced.

What Does Independence Look Like in Your Dental Career?

So why do some dentists in private and solo practices assume that affiliating with a DSO will give them less freedom in their practice?

Two common and very understandable reasons are simply fear of the unknown, and fear of change. After years of operating on their own and building a practice on their terms, it can be tough for a dentist to be open to changing that, despite the challenges they may be facing. But openness and flexibility open the door for collaboration and efficiency.

On the other hand, those dentists who have worked best with Heartland Dental, no matter their experience level or situation, have been ones that are open, positive, and mentally flexible. “In order to fully thrive in a DSO environment, affiliating dentists need to embrace change for the sake of progression,” says McClain, “and possess a continuing commitment to best serving their communities.”

Both progress and service to the community still require a good deal of leadership. Heartland Dental wants to make that leadership even more possible, not less.

We celebrate freedom with food and fireworks. But true freedom in our personal lives starts with a clear vision for the future and a healthy work-life balance. Something to think about with regard to your own career as you celebrate on the 4th.

To learn more about our affiliation opportunities, visit our website: https://heartland.com/affiliations.