The Private Practice Advantage: What You Can Offer Your Patients to Keep Them Coming Back
doctor and doll, one of Norman Rockwell’s most enduring paintings, cast an evocative spell over readers of the Saturday night post when it made its cover debut on March 9, 1929. The caring depiction of a family doctor checking the heartbeat of a young girl’s doll represents a heartwarming insight into the bond of trust between doctor and patient. Few artistic visionaries could have expressed it better.
Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, the doctor-patient relationship has faded into a shadow of its former meaning. It’s no secret that the field of insurance now plays a prominent role in the discussion of medical treatments. Conversations that once took place exclusively between patient and caregiver now include a host of intermediaries, most of whom know next to nothing about the medical profession. Instead, their focus remains squarely on revenue growth for shareholders.
As for Main Street dentists, they have generally remained shielded from the influence of Wall Street and its pack of insurance conglomerates. While dental insurance plays an increasing role in the operations of most private practitioners, conversations about treatments still remain largely between doctor and patient. However, changes in the business landscape are now happening faster than ever before, and often without warning. Corporate preferences have resulted in efficiently run dental service organizations (DSOs) that compete fiercely for the same clients as established private practitioners, putting many independent dentists in trouble.
Are you ready for the good news?
There is plenty of room for both business models to co-exist. Each offers unique benefits that appeal to the wide variety of needs inherent in all patients. However, if you are a dentist in private practice, you cannot afford to become complacent. A multitude of emerging technologies and tools are at your disposal to help you stay competitive and attractive to customers whose preferences seem to change with each new version of iPhone.
Also by the author: Invest in your “why”
The challenges of both owning and operating a physical practice, while numerous and ever-changing, can simultaneously be what sets you apart from the DSO model. As a private practice, your number one asset is your company culture. When you instinctively know how to welcome your patients and make them feel appreciated, they will stay with you. Having a definitive culture within your staff virtually guarantees that any customer who walks through your door will remain a loyal patient. The trick is to get them to set foot in your office first.
When potential patients call to make an appointment, it’s show time. Everyone’s goal should be to acquire them, regardless of concerns about insurance, payment plans, or scheduling issues. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Even the most well-meaning receptionists let customers fall through the cracks. If patient acquisition remains a sticking point for your practice, know that you have resources that can help. Coaching from a training specialist over the phone can often yield surprising results. Plus, there’s now a company that uses artificial intelligence to monitor incoming calls and give feedback to receptionists when potential appointments aren’t booked. This emerging technology can provide valuable insights into how to effectively call back those same customers and gain both their trust and willingness to become new patients.
Amol Nirgudkar, CEO of Patient Prism, is leading this cutting-edge science. He explains, “We enable dental practices to quickly understand the conversational nuance that led to an unscheduled appointment and provide comprehensive visual feedback and instant training on how to win the patient back, all within 15 minutes following the call.
You are not at the mercy of insurance
Of course, successfully growing your customer base often comes with another challenge: managing multiple insurers. A distinct advantage of DSOs is their innate ability to negotiate rates at all levels. You will, however, be happy to know that as a private dentist you are not necessarily subject to the whims and wishes of insurance companies. With the right tools, you can also reap your fair share of payments for services rendered. The final model that every private practice should fall back on is a Groupon-like system in which fair payments are sacrificed in exchange for the illusory promise of increased clientele.
Fortunately, firms now exist to represent your interests when it comes to partnering with various insurers. “It’s a common misconception that DSOs have the most lucrative PPO fee schedules,” says Patrick O’Rourke, founder and CEO of Practice Quotient, a company specializing in bridging the gap between independent dentists and dentists. insurance agencies. “Each dental insurance company has its own distinct criteria for identifying top providers, assessing the value and need for that provider to participate in their network.”
You have the opportunity to sell dental products
Receiving adequate compensation for services rendered is an obvious goal, but it shouldn’t be your only goal. An often overlooked benefit of owning your own storefront is your explicit ability to sell. Although treating patients is every dentist’s top priority, more and more dentists are realizing the benefits of supplying products to eager customers. Beauty salons have long profited from this logical market. People who spend a lot of money on their appointments at the hairdresser also pay generous sums to maintain their hairstyle, and they gladly turn to experts to find out which products to buy.
It’s no different when it comes to dentistry. Your patients are naturally invested in their oral hygiene, otherwise they wouldn’t be your patients. If you provide a range of products in your office, especially ones that you can use, you will make additional sales which will ultimately improve your bottom line.
“To increase production, you need to increase your level of care,” says Dr. Robert Martino, CEO of OraCare, a leading dental supplier of oral care products. “OraCare does that. It’s great for your patient and can be cost-effective [for] office.”
Where Technology Comes In
If lasting success as an independent dentist had to be summed up in one word, it would be optimization. The heart of the DSO model revolves around it. Fortunately, yours too. As a private practitioner, technology supports you. With the right platforms in place, you can streamline every office function, from insurance validation to payroll and human resources. Economies of scale, once reserved for consortia, are now available to sole proprietors who know where to find them. The key is to use well-established cloud-based systems that, once in place, can not only reduce your overhead, but also increase your revenue. And unlike DSOs, you can have it all and still retain full ownership of your practice.
Understand your value
Alex Sadusky, CEO of TruBlu Dental Management, describes the influence his company can have on yours: “We strongly believe in preserving private practice and ensuring that every dentist is the best business person possible with the most opportunities to make their practice the practice of their dreams. One thing we know is that every dentist and team member must understand the true value of what they do to impact the lives of their patients every day. When every member of the team understands that they are not only working in a dental practice, but also in a business, great things can happen.
The many facets of dentistry
Any dentist determined to maintain a private practice in this ever-changing climate undoubtedly has what it takes to succeed and, more importantly, to reap the enormous rewards of their success. However, it should be remembered that even the most qualified dentists have spent 95% of their training learning only the practice of clinical dentistry. In other words, little attention has been paid to the business side of running an office. Dentists in private practice are forced to wear many hats if they want to maintain their relevance. Being a qualified dentist is only one third of the equation. Understanding of business systems and business acumen make up another third. The final piece of the puzzle is mastery of communication and leadership.
If the business side of practice ownership sometimes overwhelms you, you’re not alone. You should be proud of your ambition, not afraid of it. In addition, you must seek advice when needed. Expert coaches from the management world can give you immediate insight into how to make your practice thrive. I advise my clients to look for a “class 3 experience”. In doing so, you focus on three main areas: what’s good for the patient, what’s good for the practice, and what’s good for the profession. Having a coach by your side allows you to operate with amazing clarity. For many private practitioners, this is the most transformative investment they will make in their career.
Bernie Stoltz, CEO of Fortune Management, a leader in the dental management consulting industry, succinctly sums up the goal: “Our commitment to every client we serve is to support them on the path to financial freedom.”
Preserve the doctor-patient relationship
As an independent dentist in a corporate landscape, you play an important role in preserving the cherished and time-honoured relationship between doctor and patient. Not only do you deserve your place at the table, but you deserve all the tools and support that will allow you to thrive. I saw in the hearts of dentists who often come to me for advice. Like you, their greatest joy is helping the people they proudly serve. I am simply here to remind you all that the essential role you play as private practitioners should also lead you to lasting prosperity.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental economy magazine. Dentists in North America can take advantage of a free print subscription. Register here.