This is a challenging time for private practice.
Whether we are at the beginning, middle, or nearing the end of our professional careers, many of us have noticed a few holes in our schedules. Our hygienists aren’t as busy as they used to be, patients delay necessary treatment, and new patients seem to be few and far between.
Our colleagues at dental society meetings and study clubs seem to share our woes. We all shrug and say, “The office is slow.” Some solace is taken knowing that it isn’t just our practice that is taking a hit. We blame the economy, politicians, and global finance for our troubles.
This blame game needs to STOP RIGHT NOW. Yes, the economic downturn has affected our practices but there’s so much more at work here. If we just wait for the economy to improve we’ll find that our practices won’t be buoyed back with the rising tide.
Several forces are at work that have resulted in a decrease in dental office visits since as early as 2005, well before the economy took a dump. Here are some of the main offenders:
(1) Decreased third party benefits – Fewer benefit packages are being offered. Even if your practice is fee-for-service, your patients are less likely to begin treatment if they lost their dental insurance.
(2) Changing dental benefit arrangements – Insurance companies are shifting the costs of treatment onto the beneficiary. A procedure that used to be covered at 80% may now be covered at 50%.
(3) The “consumerization” of patients – Our services are viewed as interchangeable commodities as patients become bargain shoppers. Check out this post for more on consumerization.
(4) More competition from dentists – There are more dentists graduating from more dental schools and fewer retiring dentists.
(5) More competition from alternative practice models – The rise of corporate dentistry and similar practices that use economies of scale to their advantage.
So even when the economy picks itself and dusts itself off, dental private practice won’t necessarily jump back to its former glory. Is it hopeless? Is private practice a dying practice model?
Absolutely not. Private practice will survive and thrive. I’ll explain why I think so in my next post.