Part 1 of a 6 part series
Dentistry has changed tremendously over the last 10 years. One of the most understated changes I’ve seen in that time has been the rise of independent dentists coming together to form mini or boutique corporate dental groups. This 6 part series of articles will address the potential technological pitfalls associated with merging practices and forming mini or boutique corporate dental groups and how to avoid those pitfalls by planning ahead.
The number of dentists that approach me to discuss multi-location practices housing multiple dentists and specialties has increased dramatically over the last 2 – 3 years. The common factor predictably being cost sharing and improving patient retention by addressing all their patient’s dental needs on “friendly territory”. A large percentage of these inquiries involve merging existing practices together. Doing so can be daunting to say the least – there are so many things to consider: remodeling, retention of existing team members, compensation changes, equipment, marketing and re-branding, and the existing owner’s transition to retirement - just to name a few.
Most of the dentists I meet with have a good handle on how they plan to address these
items, yet when I ask, “So how do you plan to handle your practice management database merger?” I get blank stares. On occasion I’ll get a response that indicates some plan of action has been considered but most seem to falter when it comes to the conversion, merger, and management of digital diagnostic imaging. It’s a source of visible discomfort for most dentists and their teams. Imagine dealing with this for every practice acquired. This discomfort can lead taking shortcuts and making to emotional decisions like delaying sorely needed practice management software and imaging changes until the transition “dust” settles. (For example: the original/main location has Software X, and the newly acquired location retains Software Y.)
This get-everyone-comfortable-before-making-the-change approach is all too common and, while it seems like the right thing to do in the moment, having mismatched software and imaging in a corporate environment, regardless of its size, creates a completely different set of obstacles. Reporting won’t be uniform across all the locations making it tedious to track production, collections, and other metrics. If the locations are within a radius that allows patients to travel between offices for different services, records must be duplicated and entered into the other software creating a huge efficiency deficit for team members at both locations. Patients will also get statements/bills from two different locations which creates confusion and can lead to accounting errors on the part of both parties.
Today, technology exists that allows smaller boutique corporate groups to behave more like their big corporate brothers and sisters by putting all of their data in a central location, report metrics for each location separately, eliminate the inefficiency and potential errors associated with record duplication, consolidate billing, and make it all accessible from the corporate headquarters or any office. If you are thinking Cloud Computing, you are partially right. What is the cloud after all? It’s not a magical land of fairy dust, unicorns, and rainbows. The Cloud is best simply defined as storing or accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your hard drive. What I’m describing is called Hybrid Cloud, and it’s a little different. Rather than storing data and running programs on the internet and dealing with the limitations that go along with doing so, you would store your data and run programs on a server not located at any of your offices. Typically, that server is in a data center. With the right software, which doesn’t have to be cloud based, you can do this fairly easily provided that your digital imaging is compatible. Doing this versus going with a web-based cloud software has a lot of benefits, some of which I will explain in subsequent parts of this series of articles.
Practitioners looking to create multi-location corporate style practices should be seriously investigating Hybrid Cloud as a viable, of often less expensive alternative to multiple servers and RDP sessions.
In my next article I will discuss how to position your current practice to make the jump to a multi-location practice with practice management and imaging software that grows with you.