Dental Support Organizations (DSOs) support roughly 7% of all dentists in the U.S. today. Still, many dentists are afraid that getting outside help will mean either a loss of control of their practice, or a more impersonal feel . So, why do dentists affiliate with a DSO to begin with?
Dental practice owners are often proud of the businesses they have built. Handing off part or all of that business to another company can be an emotional experience. That’s why we find, over and over again, that the decision is not one dentists take lightly. Indeed, there are really three (well, four) main reasons why dentists choose to affiliate with a DSO after careful consideration:
They Want to Take Their Practice to the Next Level
Growing a business for the long haul is difficult. It is not uncommon for a dentist to successfully start and grow a practice at first, only to hit a plateau beyond which they cannot grow.
A lot of this has to do with the time and capital needed to grow a dental practice beyond a certain size. Take marketing and advertising, for example. A dental practice can do a brisk business simply by using word-of-mouth (assuming that the quality of service is there, of course). But referrals from current patients can grow the business only so far; sooner or later, the practice will need to consider creating a website, advertising on social media, paying attention to local Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and so on. Without these things, there’s a plateau that is hit, and hit hard.
DSOs tend to be well capitalized and already have investments in technology and staff. They are able to spread out operational costs, leverage bulk purchases, and hire staff who specialize in different aspects of the business, such as finance and marketing. This means that the average DSO can be much more efficient in bringing these “next level” drivers of growth to a practice.
The end effect is an upgraded practice. A DSO might improve the equipment, management software, hiring practices, online presence, even the décor of the office. These are the kinds of improvements that a solo practice has a tough time bringing in by itself.
They Are Desperate to Restore Some Work-life Balance
Many dentists who have been in practice for some time realize that running a practice takes a lot of commitment—and time. Heartland Dental’s own Dr. Rick Workman discovered this with his own practice, where he was spending 40-50 hours a week “chairside” and another 20-30 hours on the non-clinical side of things, running the practice. He founded Heartland Dental precisely because he recognized the need to bring work-life balance back to the profession.
There are many little things a dentist can do to restore some work-life balance (setting very specific work hours, cutting down on useless meetings, having separate phones and/or mobile devices for work and personal use, etc.). But, at the end of the day, that balance cannot be restored unless another party takes on the bulk of the management of the practice.
For this reason, many dentists affiliate with a DSO. The DSO can handle much of the management of the practice (including hiring, marketing, appointment setting, financial services, and so on), allowing the doctor to keep reasonable hours and even transition when the time comes.
They Are Keen on Developing a Retirement Strategy
Wait, transition? Yes, many dentists who have had a long, successful career already are looking for ways to cut back their hours, bring on additional early-career dentists, and set up their practices to run without them.
This need not just happen when the dentist nears retirement age, mind you. Many dentists transition because they want to pursue some other aspect of their career—teaching, research, consulting, and so on. Planning for a transition makes sense no matter what age or career stage you are in currently.
A good DSO is familiar with such transitions and can help you to formulate a plan. This can include a transition period where you stay on to help run the practice and get new practicing dentists “up to speed,” eventually stepping back from the day-to-day operations.
BONUS REASON: Business is Not Their Cup of Tea
Many dental practice owners are wonderful at dentistry but feel that their dental school education did not provide enough education when it came to the business side of running a practice.
Running a dental practice as an owner means being an entrepreneur. While that can be a great feeling, especially when the business is doing well, the road to get there is not for everyone. It entails taking financial risks, dealing with legal liability, managing people, and finding systematic ways of handling the day-to-day tasks.
Indeed, many dentists feel better served staying up-to-date on patient care and clinical practices than trying to figure out the ins-and-outs of financial projections, employment contracts, and marketing plans. Affiliating with a DSO means handing off these business functions and concentrating on the dentistry itself.
If you are interested in finding out more about affiliating with a DSO, we encourage you to reach out to us. We’re happy to field your questions!