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    Is the solo practice dead?

    The rise of DSOs has many solo practitioners nervous — but what does the future really hold?


    Stay in the game

    Given the current climate, how do solo practitioners compete in the DSO era? Dr. Levin advises three areas in which to focus.

    “Number one: retain their patients,” Dr. Levin says. “Private practices have, typically, about a 15 percent attrition rate per year, and that needs to come down to about seven or eight percent. The difference is customer service. Those practices that have good customer service need to have great customer service that wows people with their brand and a message and a level of care and convenience. Number two: Marketing programs are very important today, but the strongest marketing program is still patient referrals. When patients have excellent customer service, and then are motivated by the practice to refer to that practice, it can increase the number of new patients. Number three: Focus on convenience for the patient. That means convenient appointments, convenient payment plans, even convenient hours, in some cases, that allows the practice to retain patients, participating with plans. If the patient base is very insurance-based, it’s going to be hard to keep them if a practice does not participate at some point. And with lower reimbursements, practices need to run much more efficiently.”

    Trending article: Pushing back against DSO takeovers

    To remain competitive, to offer patients what they want, Dr. Burt says solo practitioners must expand their offerings.

    “The solo guy does have to bring some other specialties in-house, or they need to become diversified in what services they offer,” he says. “We do pretty much everything. I have a huge implant practice, and that’s why I have a cone beam. We have all the technologies. I do full-on orthodontics, whether it be clear aligners or bracketing, endodontics. I guess the one thing we don’t do too much is perio surgery. So, the breadth and width of services is going to force the general practitioners to have a knowledge about most specialties in dentistry and be somewhat able to deal with it, and do it properly.”

    Dr. Cooper observes that the opportunities offered by DSOs makes it hard, especially for the Millennial doctors. The remain in private practice.

    “If I’m in solo practice, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts. I’m in confusion,” Dr. Cooper says. “The first one is: I don’t have a buyer, unless I really cheapen down. So, I’m doing $1.1 million a year, I’m working my 180 days, my overhead is running about 60 percent, and I’m making a really pretty good living out of it, but the fight is getting harder. What do I do? Well, if I go over there, if the rumors – most of them unproven – about DSOs that they’re unethical, they lack integrity, and they do poor dentistry. However, when you look, DSOs are the only ones with quality assurance programs. Solo practices do not have those. They don’t have chart review, they don’t have peer review, they don’t have evaluation about their work, no one’s ever over their shoulder looking at what kind of quality dentistry is being done. DSOs are doing that.”

    Related reading: Are DSOs headed for trouble? 


    Next: What the future holds

    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...


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