By now, everyone probably knows about the DentalCorp IPO. It is the first Canadian corporate dental group to go public since TriDont tried it, unsuccessfully, approximately 35 years ago.
The response to this news on social media has been interesting to watch. Some dentists in private practice have responded with an “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” attitude, seemingly feeling this is a sign of the apocalypse for private practice. That approach leaves me wondering why those are the only options some dentists see! Why do we have to either “beat’em” or “join’em”? Why can’t private practice look for ways to adapt so it can thrive alongside the corporate world?
The first essential step to a profitable co-existence is to abandon the negativity toward corporate dentistry. It is here and it is here to stay, despite early scepticism regarding work environment and quality of care. While there were some bumps along the way, many dental teams are happy with their corporate experience.
That does not necessarily make it a good fit for everyone. Being part of a corporate structure does impact your autonomy and your potential income as office profitability is no longer yours. However, the key remains to make your decision based on your assessment of what is the right fit, as opposed to a “can’t beat’em, so better join’em” criteria.
That brings us to the second essential step to co-existence…how do you maintain your independence while adapting to the changing landscape?
This sense of change and the unknown it brings is a source of considerable stress for many. The growing proliferation of corporate dental groups is, in and of itself, part of the changing world of dentistry. However, many of the changes are external to the corporate world. Shortages in the labour market, rapid evolution in technology and, of course, the past 16 months living under a pandemic have been issues the corporate dental world has had to respond to just like those in private practice. And they have been stressful for everyone!
If your glass is half-empty, you will feel corporate groups may have an unfair advantage because they have in-house expertise that can provide them with the guidance that they require to better navigate these challenges. How can a solo practitioner possibly compete with that? This is where a change in perspective is vital. Let’s start looking at this as the glass being half full!
Yes…the model under which the profession of dentistry has existed and thrived for decades is changing. And why shouldn’t it? Everything is changing!
Change has meant dentists need to wear more hats today. Marketing, recruiting, personnel training and development, technology upgrades, financial analytics are just some of these additional hats that dentists have to put on from time to time. And for many dentists, they are not always a comfortable fit!
So, stop trying to fit into each hat!
Corporate dental groups function because they have different people wearing all those different hats. It means people with the right expertise are wearing the right hats. It also means they carry a sizeable dental bureaucracy. Yet despite that expense, they manage to be quite profitable.
So why can’t you do the same in private practice?
The reality is there is nothing done by a DSO that you cannot do on your own!
Rather than trying to wear every hat in your office, hire people internally to look after some of those tasks. Or you can contract some of those services out to third parties who specialize in them. In other words, simply adjust what the DSOs are doing down to your scale. As the practice owner, you still need to stay informed about what is going on even though you are not actually doing it! You just have to trust in the team and training you have in place to get those jobs done, while making sure your systems hold everyone accountable!
“But we still won’t be large enough to compete with the corporate economies of scale,” I hear you say. There are solutions to help with that. You can pool your resources with other dentists and form a partnership. Sure, it means sharing in the overall profitability of your office. But more partners give you deeper pockets to deal with the ever-expanding list of modern business expenses.
You may consider joining a buying group to get better deals on sundries, equipment and services. Buying groups bring down pricing with their bulk purchasing power plus your team does not have to shop around for the best deal. Rather, they can focus on patient care…which is a more valuable use of their time. More importantly, a good buying group provides a sense of community. Whether it is additional educational opportunities or simply the chance to share information amongst colleagues, buying groups remind you that you are not alone.
A DSO may still be a great fit for you for other reasons. If you find that to be the case, then it is something you should consider. However, going that route believing “you can’t beat’em, so better join’em” may not be the best decision for you. Instead, try being creative, adapt to new models of private practice and learn how you can thrive alongside the corporate world.