Forces Shaping the Future of Corporate Dentistry
Few would argue against the notion that so-called corporate dentistry will play an increasingly prominent role in care delivery.
Few would argue against the notion that so-called corporate dentistry will play an increasingly prominent role in care delivery. We detailed the attractions and challenges of solo and small group practice in last month’s editorial. Now let’s explore some of the factors that are fueling the rise of large group practice.
One potent driver is health care reform, as the economic forces currently seen in medicine will begin to impact dental practice. An increased emphasis will be placed on patient-centered care — a concept that emphasizes self-care and includes patients in therapeutic decisions. As this model is more widely adopted, dentists will need to gather more data on each patient in order to monitor outcomes. This will place additional demands on providers and, at the same time, decrease revenue. Compared to small offices, dental service organizations are more likely to have systems and resources in place to efficiently capture this data.
Corporate dentistry is attractive to some dentists due to the opportunity for flexible schedules. This appeals to individuals who have interests outside of dentistry or who wish to reduce practice days due to family commitments.
In addition, many individuals who have the mechanical skills needed to perform dentistry do not have a taste for the business side of the profession. Joining a large group practice can eliminate managerial concerns. Advantages include staff management, ordering and upkeep of the physical side of the practice. Corporate groups typically have marketing budgets to help attract new patients, and also handle payroll, billing and insurance issues. This relieves the dentist of these essential, but nonclinical, functions.
Another attraction is that, in most cases, there is no initial investment. This is appealing to many dentists due to increasing student debt. The American Dental Association (ADA) surveyed dental school seniors in 2012 and found an average educational debt of $221,000 (compared to $84,000 in 1996). This debt load makes it difficult for most young dentists to buy a practice, much less start one.
There have been mixed reports about the experience of dentists working for dental service organizations. A recent satisfaction survey prepared by the ADA’s Health Policy Institute compared dentists in solo, small group and large group practices. One of the key findings was that dentists in large group practices had less stress compared to those in other practice settings. On the other hand, they also expressed concerns about the ability to influence the organization and advance within it. Compared to their independent peers, corporate dentists were less likely to be satisfied with the care delivered in their practice and less likely to report satisfaction with their careers. On the positive side, they were more satisfied with benefits and income levels.
One thing is certain: Regardless of your opinion of corporate dentistry, it is here to stay and will continue to be a shaping force on today’s changing dental landscape.