If you read all the recent articles about corporate dentistry, you might get a feeling that in a few years you’ll be getting your dental work done in a Walmart-like office.
It is true that compared to 10 years ago, when there were a handful of corporations, we now see more and more dental service organizations (DSOs) coming up while the existing ones keep growing. This is what happens when a small business model is successful, as there are quite a few advantages to being big—for example, cheaper sundries and equipment. Seeing how your small-town baker’s success was used to create a huge bakery facility servicing an entire megapolis is a good illustration of such evolution.
So, does the future look all corporate? I do not believe so. As there are advantages to being big, there are multiple advantages to being small.
Your employees are the most valuable asset that you have in your practice. Owners of private dental clinics have the flexibility of hiring staff that they jive with and dismissing staff members with whom there is no chemistry. The freedom to implement your own policies, health benefits, bonus structure, and training programs is key to the pride you should have in your own practice.
As CEO of a dental software company, I am responsible for my employees and their families. Personally, and regardless of how stressful that might be, I will never be comfortable letting a big corporation take that responsibility from me.
Customer Service & Patient Care
I have rarely seen happy clients working with a customer-service representative that had anything to do with metrics. Although there is a trend for chatbots and artificial intelligence taking over many customer service elements, I am a true believer that the more mechanical the interaction becomes, the more personal the clients would prefer it to be.
The freedom to let your team go above and beyond for your patients is a powerful way to increase their loyalty to your clinic and bring their friends and family on board. The capability of exceptional service is sometimes crippled by the number of calls per hour or per day that some staff would need to take care of in a corporate environment. The ability of your staff to create deep and meaningful relationships with your patients is definitely the biggest advantage your private clinic has in competing with the larger corporations, and you must leverage it to your advantage.
Dentistry is science, but it is also art. Being creative and a perfectionist is almost a requirement
for all dentists, new and experienced alike. Marketing is also both a science and an art. It has many aspects that are analytical, measurable, and closely connected to neuroscience. However, it also has many artistic aspects, and it demands creativity. Thinking about the next thing to do and the best way to execute it requires many hours of brainstorming and reflection.
Having said that, there is nothing like the feeling of a successful marketing campaign. The freedom of positioning your clinic in whatever way and format you feel comfortable with is priceless. How you choose to do your marketing is the easiest way to stand out from the crowd (not only from corporate dental clinics but from other competitors as well) and share your unique story that prompted you to start your own dental practice.
In today’s world, the quality of dentistry is not always determined by the dentist only. The equipment used—software, hardware, consumables, materials, etc—are key components that assist dental professionals in delivering high-quality dental care.
So it would come as no surprise that one of the biggest frustrations in clinics is when something isn’t working properly. Think about the last time you had a broken chair, a faulty x-ray machine, a computer that died, no internet, or even an empty box of gloves.
Yeah, I heard that sigh! The freedom to choose your own vendors, not only by price but by the level of service they provide, is the difference between getting the patient to wait in the waiting room for half a day (or sending them home) and being up and running within an hour. Moreover, in some cases, replacing vendors is as important as selecting them from the get-go.
By this point, you might be asking, what about the ability to practice my own type of dentistry? What about my clinical freedom to spend more time on a crown? I believe there is no point in writing about it, as to me this is a no-brainer. If your perception of proper dentistry does not fall in line with the owner’s, whether it’s a privately owned clinic or corporate, you should seek a different clinic. Staying there is not good for you, your patients, or the clinic.
Oftentimes, the advantage of removing the management burden that is part of what corporate dentistry offers becomes a point of great frustration. When management dismisses your assistant for not achieving certain metrics, changes the purchasing policy to only one brand of materials, or tweaks the morning meetings to only briefly touch upon patient care in favor of heavily reviewing metrics, staff morale and, in turn, patient satisfaction can be negatively affected.
It’s like a tied up superhero watching his beloved city or family go up in flames and being helpless to do anything. If you have never owned a clinic, you might feel that I’m exaggerating. But if you do own a clinic, imagine being taken on a “ghost of Christmas Eve” tour of your practice where you cannot change any of the things you feel are wrong.
In business, whether big or small, you have to rely on your team and the collaboration within it, if you are to succeed. To me, it all starts with your purpose. Why are you doing what you are doing? The answer to this is obviously not money, as money can be earned in so many other ways. You went to dental school for a reason. You endured the entire curriculum and practice for more than just a paying job.
I suggest finding your purpose (your why) and making your life (both home and work) revolve around it. This way, you are guaranteed fulfillment, reduced stress, and happiness. Purpose can be discovered through a very intimate self-exploratory process, and it will lead you, your team, and your clinic through all the responsibilities and uncertainties of private practice.
As a dentist who is passionate about the clinical aspect of dentistry, a key component is finding an intelligent and knowledgeable office manager. Why have one, you ask? Because there is no other good way to run a successful dental clinic. However, there are steps to take to build trust with the office manager. Keep in mind that building trust is a daily effort and not the result or a goal you achieve. Every day is a test and another step in enhancing trust.
My purpose guides me in both my personal and professional lives. The many challenges facing dental clinics, both private and corporate, are varied and ever-changing. To strive in the ever-changing business, it is crucial to never lose focus of your purpose and why you do what you do and never give it up. True and properly defined purpose serves as a true beacon for all decisions.
I wrote my book Responsible Dental Ownership—Balancing Ethics and Business Through Purpose to empower dentists through my business experience and help guide them through the treacherous jungle of business in today’s reality. It goes into detail about what is important in a dental clinic, the three drivers of a dental clinic, and the various tools at your disposal. It also deals with practical tools that you can implement right away to help you take your first step toward responsible dental ownership—all of the above, done through the prism of your defined purpose.
Mr. Zlatin, author of Responsible Dental Ownership—Balancing Ethics Through Purpose, had more than 10 years of management experience before he accepted the position of CEO of dental practice management company Maxident. He earned his MBA at Edinburgh Business School and a BSc in technology management at HIT in Israel. His company helps struggling dental professionals take control of their practices and reach the next level of success with responsible leadership strategies. He can be reached at alexzlatin.com.