To be successful, dentists must focus on themselves: DEO's Darin Acopan shares insights for growth

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Professionals in the dental industry know the pressure to expand and keep up with the transitioning market. However, as expansion is on everyone's mind, reimbursement is getting tougher and dentists are competing for patients.

Darin Acopan, executive vice president of the Dentist Entrepreneur Organization, understands the constraints dentists are under and how the industry is changing. The DEO is a peer-to-peer membership community of dentist entrepreneurs working toward expanding group practices.

Below, Mr. Acopan discusses what dentists must focus on in order to be successful as well the power of the patient experience.

Editor's note: Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Is reimbursement getting tougher or easier for dentists?
Darin Acopan: It is getting much more difficult. It doesn't matter if you own a solo or group practice; it's all the same. There is declining reimbursement rates year over year. I have seen an increase in white labeling of in-house dental implants to mitigate risk. I have also seen more people switch from government-based models to PPO and fee-for-service because they can make more money as an owner by saying no to most insurance plans. So, when you get your practice to the level where you no longer need insurance plans to drive new patients in, then a lot of dentists move to the fee-for-service model so that they have higher margins and less stress.

Q: How has the introduction of private equity changed dentistry?
DA: It has changed dentistry greatly. There has been more private equity getting into dental in the last five years than there has in the previous two decades. While there has been a huge uptick, there are also challenges with private equity. For example, not all private equity is created equally. Only a few firms actually have transaction experience on a group practice level. If you are a solo dentist, you probably are not a private equity target.

When someone wants to go from the first location to their second all to about 20 locations, there isn't an education forum available. We provide the education support and assistance as well as leadership development for dentists and dental groups to grow.

One piece of advice we give when dentists are looking to scale is that you are going to be the average of the people you are going to spend your time around, so it's important to choose the people you spend your time around carefully.

Q: How do you get patients into your doors? And how do you keep them coming back?
DA: The first mistake most dentists make, before doing any external marketing, is not figuring out their unique value proposition for what the patient experience should be. Dentists must find their unique model and map it out from beginning to end. From there, dentists should create protocols around the patient experience. This is the same way that consumers can go into any McDonalds across the country and receive the same strategic experience.

Q: Who/what is a dentist’s biggest competitor?
DA: The biggest competitors to owners, whether they are one location or multiple, is themselves. Dentists typically don't work on themselves as leaders first, and leadership is not taught in dental school. I recommend dentists work on themselves and then work on getting the right people on their team. Finally, dentists should work on the business. Dentists can go straight to the business seeking a secret playbook. And quickly employees leave a practice. I always tell dentists: people leave bosses not businesses.

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