Good staff, patient trust are keys to success without DSOs, Wisconsin dentist says

R.J. Carpenter, DDS, the sole practitioner at his Sun Prairie, Wis.-based dental office, discussed current dental competition and weighed the pros and cons of joining a dental service organization in an interview with Becker's Dental + DSO Review.

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

Question: What motivated you to go into private practice rather than partner with a DSO?
Dr. R.J. Carpenter: I went into practice as a business owner at a time when 97 percent of dental practices were dentist-owned. DSOs were a very small percentage of the dental business model. Being my own boss was a huge part of that decision — hard work and long hours benefited me directly, not a corporate owner.

Q: What would be most important to you when considering DSOs?
RJC: DSOs don't always focus on staff reimbursement and benefits as much as they should. We are in a time where quality staff members are very difficult to find. Once a dentist attracts a good staff, it's necessary to retain those individuals. If that requires a wage that is a bit higher, then so be it. If it means part time instead of full time, the employee is accommodated. Retaining skilled and quality staff is the No. 1 concern in our field currently. Patients don't like a revolving door of dental staff that they entrust their dental health to.

Q: How do you get patients into your doors? And how do you keep them coming back?
RJC: The majority of our new patients are referred by existing patients. We have long felt that focusing on the patients already in our practice prompts growth. We do very little marketing, and our new patient flow is very good. Our patients come back because they trust us after seeing the same hygienist and same dentist every visit.

Q: Who is your biggest competitor?
RJC: Competition from other dental businesses is always a consideration, but because we spend so much effort taking care of existing patients and offering fair prices, we don't have a problem with competition. Being in business for 30 years has helped a lot — the office has name recognition in the community.

Q: If you could solve one challenge in the dental industry overnight, what would it be and why?
RJC: Third-party reimbursement from insurers has slowly declined for many years. A major player in the field of dental reimbursement has lowered their allowable fees so much that dentists' income has become affected. If office income is reduced, so are wages and benefits — not a good combination when one is trying to retain employees in a tough market.

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