Why group practice is rising and dentists with solo practice need to think about it
Group practice is increasingly becoming a trend in the dental industry but many dentists in solo practice brush it off. Here’s a thorough discussion of the rise of group practices in the US, including the changing context in the dental industry, the challenges of solo practice and the benefits of group practice.
Evolution of dental group practices
Dental practice started as a home-based, small-scale business carried on at home by the dentist himself and his family members who act as assistants. It was a small yet promising activity as people in the community maintain close personal relationship with the dentist.
As the years went by and the dental technology developed, many dentists moved from the comfort of their own homes to good locations. It’s because people become busier with their jobs, having lesser time to visit the dentist-next-door. Modern dental products, supplies and equipment became indispensable in modern dental practice and specialty dental procedures like oral surgery, endodontics and oral surgery started rising. They also started hiring dental assistants and dental hygienists to help them out.
In 1991, the American Dental Association (ADA) revealed that 91% out of all dentists in the US owned their dental practice and 67% of dentists are engaged in solo practice. But these figures gradually decreased, as the 2010 ADA survey shows that only 86% of dentists in the US owned their practice, while solo practitioners only comprised 59% of the dentist population.
According to the latest statistics available at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there are around 190,000 practicing dentists in the country.
Dentists specialize in any of the following:
- Pediatric dentistry
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology
- Dental public health
Dental profession also changed with time. Group practices involving networks of dental practices owned and managed by private equity firms progressively opened the possibility of having a heterogeneous dental care system.
In 1992, there were only ten large dental firms in the country. By the end of 2007, it grew to 53 dental firms which operate 3,009 establishments. On the same year, at least 0.04 percent of the dental firms in the country belong to entities operating a minimum of ten establishments. Group dental practices gradually gained attention, as 6.4 of percent of dentists last 2012 reported that they belong to a group dental practice which delivers services to several locations. Most of these dental groups operate in heavily populated areas.
As people search for cheaper yet quality dental services and the cost of doing business slowly goes up, many new comers seeking entry into the dental profession see group practice as a good option. That means more dentists are becoming employees instead of being practice owners. Over 40% of fresh graduates are women who are not seriously considering ownership because they often prefer part-time or group practice.
The high costs of student debt load which can be more than $250, and the rising cost of advancing technologies also discourage 20% of new dentists from seeking owned practice. This leaves retiring dentists in a dilemma on who will buy their practice. But despite this number, 86% of dentists are still practicing solo. That means majority of solo practitioners shoulder the following costs, singlehandedly:
- Fixed and variable costs
Where does your money go? Sadly, it’s not in small dental clinics anymore. The revenue goes more on more to dental groups managing multi-provider practices like orthodontics and pedodontics. These groups which own around 8 to 20 locations generate as much as $25 million every year!
Changes in dental practice context
While the job outlook for dentists is very good, solo practice is not as promising as it used to be. Solo practicing dentists are often faced with issues on financial management as group dentistry is increasingly becoming popular. But, cost-cutting, working more hours and offering expansive types of services are not enough to compete with these large dental companies.
Other problems faced by solo practitioners
Solo practitioners experience an average estimated loss of $18,174 to fraud. Dentists have huge clinical responsibilities which gives them little time to monitor their staff. A dentist usually becomes a victim of fraud when his (or her) employees write off collections from the books or claim from more than one insurance company for the same treatment. While dentists suffer financially from revenue fraud because of lost collection, insurance fraud can have serious legal implications.
Handling unsatisfied patients is also a challenge for solo practitioners. There’s always the risk of getting civil liabilities or losing your license especially in serious cases. It is one of the reasons why many fresh graduates prefer group practice because they can depend on the management for support in handling customer complaints.
How do solo practitioners thrive in business?
Eighty percent of dentists in solo practice take PPOs and they’re the most likely target of declining revenues especially if their services can’t compete with large dental groups. The remaining 20% are dedicated to improving their craft and giving the best service their solo practice can give.
Solo practitioners can survive and flourish in the coming years as long as they are passionate about their craft. They should attend trainings, revamp their marketing strategy to attract and retain patients, and give their best services. Location, staff efficiency and the use of the most efficient dental tools and equipment can also do wonders.
Tips for dentists in solo practice
Solo practice is still a good option for those who are not comfortable working with other dentists. Running their family dental clinic or going solo can give them more control over their time and it also makes a good living.
Here are some tips to optimize you earnings:
Review your strengths and weaknesses and do something about it. Take advanced courses, attend regional and national conferences and continuously update yourself with the latest trend in the dental industry so that you will always be at par with your competitors.
Build a good reputation. In turn, you will be increasing your chances of being recommended by your patients to people they know.
Work hard. It may sound as a cliché, but if you want to get more patients, then you must be at the dental office as often as you can. Keep tabs on your appointment and accept as many clients as you can handle in a day.
Consider group practice. If you’re not comfortable working with other people, you can start slow. Think of the financial rewards that come with the opportunity of working in a large company. You can get decent pay, more time off from work, and you don’t have to worry about unpaid bills and staff salary. Group practice also offers benefits like competitive salary, exceptional benefits package, and opportunities for professional development. Not to mention the stable income and confidence that the dental administrator shall handle the things that you would normally have to consume your energy on if you engage in solo practice.
Group practice is a good option for dentists who want to enjoy the benefits of having a solid financial foundation, a support network and opportunities for personal and personal success. Joining a good dental group will spare you from managerial headaches, expose you to state of the art equipment to better serve your patients and offer financial stability during economic downturns.