DSOs have big plans to expand in 2022 — here's what to expect

Some of the largest DSOs in the U.S. kicked off the new year with various growth strategies, including new partnerships, practice affiliations and healthcare initiatives. 

Despite ongoing challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — staff vacancies, revenue losses and inflation, among others —- DSOs are taking 2022 head on.

Effingham, Ill.-based Heartland Dental ended 2021 with 424 new practices across 38 states, expanding its network to support more than 2,300 doctors in more than 1,550 offices.

Heartland Dental said it plans to continue adding group practices and regional DSOs, but will focus on increasing its single-practice affiliations in 2022. It also anticipates 100 percent growth in practices built from the ground up in 2022.

"What we do really well is affiliations and de novos, so what we'll concentrate mostly on is that," Heartland Dental CEO Pat Bauer told Becker's. "Our core business is about supporting dentists. Whatever we do, it basically comes down to our culture. Our goal is to have 5,000 supported dentists by 2025."

Irvine, Calif.-based Pacific Dental Services, with more than 850 affiliated practices nationwide, exceeded $2 billion in cumulative revenue in 2021. The DSO reached the milestone after a year of integrating new technology, practice partnerships and the opening of a dental-medical practice in Nevada. 

Pacific Dental Services has plans for additional practice affiliations and furthering the connection between oral and whole-body health. It has already landed a collaboration with Commonwealth Primary Care ACO to provide integrated medical-dental services for in-network patients in Arizona. It has also partnered with Envista to add the dental supply company's AI-powered imaging software and Spark clear aligners at its locations. 

"We're planning to add at least a hundred new practices and expanding 30 existing practices that are already at capacity," Stephen Thorne IV, founder and CEO of Pacific Dental Services, told Becker's. "We have some other major initiatives this year, but probably the most significant is completing our transition from an old practice management system called QSI to Epic. And in doing so, we'll be the largest DSO in the world on Epic, which allows for a true integrated electronic patient health record."

Sarasota, Fla.-based Dental Care Alliance completed 18 practice affiliations and opened four locations in 2021. Its network now includes more than 370 allied practices in 21 states. 

In addition to focusing on its partnerships, Dental Care Alliance plans to concentrate on engagement activities, including its diversity council and partnership with the Women in DSO organization, a nonprofit that works to advance women in the DSO field.

"We approach each day as a team committed to supporting practices and people that are at the peak of their profession; and each of our new alliances is reflective of a shared commitment to delivering first-rate clinical care and an outstanding patient experience," David Pegg, chief development officer, said in a Jan. 17 news release.  "As we move into 2022, we are excited to work alongside the industry's very best, who we are fortunate to call our allies, as we continue to build upon our collective legacies of success." 

As the COVID-19 omicron surge is expected to reach its peak in most states in mid-February, the dental industry can expect increased competition between DSOs in the form of new technologies, affiliations, company collaborations and healthcare initiatives.

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