Don't underestimate DSOs — Pacific Dental Services CEO Steve Thorne discusses industry trends & expansion

DSO + DPMs

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Irvine, Calif.-based Pacific Dental Services is among the largest dental service organizations in the U.S., with more than 700 supported offices across the country.

In November 2018, Pacific Dental Services announced plans to implement Epic at its supported offices. The DSO expects the installation to be complete in 2020. PDS will be the first DSO to join the Epic community.

Here, Pacific Dental Services CEO Steve Thorne shares insight into the evolution of Pacific Dental Services as well as the dynamic DSO market.

Question: What strategies and initiatives have led to the expansion success of Pacific Dental Services® in the past 25 years?
Steve Thorne: I get this question a lot, most often from smaller emerging DSOs looking for the secret sauce. I can tell your readers this: there are no shortcuts to building an enduring institution. I’ve been fortunate to lead a strong team of people who have helped us to become one of the best dental companies in America. Do we have a specific winning formula that others don’t? I don’t know. What I do know is that what we’re doing resonates with a lot of clinicians and patients, and if we continue to stay maniacally focused on satisfying them, we’ll continue to grow and succeed. There are a few strategies that help us do that.

First and foremost, though, is our platform. A large business can’t be successful without efficient processes and infrastructures; after all, when companies don’t have scalable, dynamic architecture, structure trumps strategy. In addition, our owner dentist model continues to win with dentists who want their name on the door. We follow through on our promise to ODs with our culture of service, our ability to support comprehensive integrated care in every supported practice and our ability to support modern dentistry. All of this is built upon the foundation of what we call our 'We Believes.'

Q: With dental service organizations continuing to dominate the field, how does Pacific Dental Services stand out? Is there a new market you are looking to tap into?
ST: PDS is known for quite a few firsts and industry leading activities. I mentioned a few of these previously, one being our owner dentist model. From the beginning, I knew that a practice had to include an on-the-ground owner if it were to be as successful as it could be. Patients can feel the culture and accountability that ownership brings. I have found that dentists as a whole are entrepreneurial; they want to serve patients and build a practice around clinical excellence. Many dentists who join a PDS-supported practice do so because they know that there may be ownership opportunities. We realize that while they are working as an associate dentist, they are trying us out. They want to see for themselves how our support system can help build a great practice.

For those not interested in ownership, which is becoming more common, there are a ton of opportunities for them across 20 states and in over 700 locations with more than 500 owner dentists. They want to know that they’ll benefit from what they’re personally building, such as patient goodwill and their standing within a community.

PDS was also the first large group to modernize the practice of dentistry with EHRs and digital radiography. We then added CEREC CAD/CAM to supported practices so patients can get same-day dentistry, lessening the time patients are in the office and away from work and family. More and more we’re becoming known for leading in the move towards dental medical integration, something we call the Mouth-Body Connection®. We’ve always supported integrated comprehensive care, with most offices offering their patients the benefit of in-house specialists. For example, we’ve been the largest supporter of pediatric dental care for years. Beyond that, we’ve added a few medical facilities to our family of supported practices that are conjoined to dental practices where the physician and the dentist collaborate on patient care; this benefits the individual holistically, leading to better patient outcomes.

Q: What struggles has Pacific Dental Services faced over the past 10 years and how did you overcome these challenges?
ST: There are always challenges in business, and my belief is that challenges are just opportunities in disguise. Competition within the space continues to heighten. The need to have a quality workforce requires us to continuously up our game. I have been proud to watch our supported clinicians also continuously up their game with regards to clinical excellence. We’ve helped them to institute a quality improvement system, as well as develop a clinical mastery track through the PDS University™ - Institute of Dentistry. A world-class team of clinicians leads the Institute. The faculty understands what it takes to succeed in dentistry. In addition to helping the clinicians stay on the forefront of clinical practice, these initiatives also help our supported owners compete for great clinical talent who want to join a practice where they’ll have the structures and systems available to them to help them continuously improve throughout their careers.

Q: In the next five to 10 years, what can patients, dentists and other DSOs expect from Pacific Dental Services?
ST: Bill Gates is quoted often for saying, 'We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.' That being said, we expect to double in size within five years. That size will give us additional economies of scale, benefiting patients and clinicians alike.

Dental medical integration will be realized, with dentists working more closely with physicians and patients expecting such clinical collaboration. The care and treatment of patients will be better and so will the experience. One area I’m happy to be seeing real improvement is with implants. Last year was the first time we saw more implants than three unit bridges. It is becoming the standard, which we’re pleased to see, because as we know, an implant is often the best thing for a patient with a missing tooth. Being patient centric like this will increase care and improve attitudes about dentistry. Technology is advancing everything. We expect to continue to lead in these areas and a couple others that I can’t share now, but it’s really exciting. Check back in with me in a few years.

I’d also like to call attention to an initiative that I’m sure would make dentists happy: Wellfit. Wellfit is a platform that eliminates the payment complexities in dentistry by powering dental plans and unifying payment processes. For patients, Wellfit provides them with a greater understanding of the cost of care, provides more payment options and helps them build trust with their providers. For the providers, Wellfit allows them to deliver care at the time of need and easily explain patient benefits and payment options. We’re proud to be Wellfit’s vanguard partner and first customer. We’re excited to see what it can do for our supported practices and leading DSOs in the future.

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