May 3, 2024

Exploring the Top Dental Service Organizations for Efficient Practice Management

Team Zenith | May 3, 2024 | 8 min read
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When it comes to dental service organizations, dentists often ask: Will they truly unburden my non-clinical responsibilities while preserving clinical autonomy? This article explains precisely how DSOs support dental practices, highlighting the vital administrative, technological, and compliance services offered. We pinpoint the competitive advantages of DSO affiliation without losing sight of what it means for your independence as a practitioner and what factors to weigh before forming a partnership.

 

Key Takeaways

• Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) enable dentists to focus on patient care by managing non-clinical aspects of dental practices, such as administrative tasks, marketing, and business management, and are increasingly popular among dentists at various career stages.

 
• Partnering with DSOs provides dental practices with several advantages including streamlined operations, access to advanced technology, enhanced cybersecurity, and support for growth and service expansion, thereby improving practice efficiency and patient care quality.

 
• Choosing the right DSO is critical for dental practices, considering factors such as clinical autonomy, business model compatibility, and ownership options, while successful DSO partnerships demonstrate benefits like maintaining practice values, expanding services, and achieving better work-life balance for dentists.

 

Understanding Dental Service Organizations (DSOs)

Dental Support Organization (DSO) is an entity that partners with dental practices to manage non-clinical aspects such as administrative tasks, marketing, and business management. These organizations enable dentists to concentrate on providing patient care by handling the non-clinical support needs of the dental practices. DSOs come in diverse sizes and configurations, supporting a range of dental practices from general to specialty, and they may operate in one state or across multiple locations.
What makes DSOs attractive is the array of benefits they offer. From competitive salaries to flexibility in practice location and access to advanced dental technology, DSOs provide an appealing package to dentists at various stages in their careers. In fact, more than 10% of all dentists were affiliated with a dental practice supported by a DSO in 2019, including dentists both early in their careers and those later in their careers.

 

The Role of DSOs in Modern Dentistry

DSOs undertake operational support services that are vital to dental practices. They manage aspects like:

 
• Human resources, including support staff

 

• Accounting

 

• Billing procedures

 

• Negotiations with payers and vendors

 
This liberates valuable time for dentists to concentrate on their patients.

 
Moreover, DSOs handle compliance and adherence to regulatory requirements from entities such as HIPAA and OSHA, effectively managing the complexities that come with evolving laws. Additionally, DSOs are instrumental in marketing, helping dental practices draw in new patients through effective promotional strategies. They offer vital procurement solutions for modern dental practices through services like superior customer service, technology integration, and IT support.

 

How DSOs Enhance Dental Care Delivery

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DSOs also provide resources for continuing education and training

DSOs significantly enhance dental care delivery by:

 
• Managing non-clinical administrative tasks such as payroll and marketing
• Allowing dentists to prioritize their clinical work
• Permitting dentists to devote more time to their patients
• Improving the quality of care they provide

DSOs also provide resources for continuing education and training, enabling dentists to adopt new practices and specialize further. Some DSOs, like Pacific Dental Services, foster a collaborative care environment by providing opportunities to integrate dental and medical services within practices like the Sahara Health Group, offering services dental professionals can benefit from.

 
In the future, we can expect DSO-supported dentistry to place a strong emphasis on preventive wellness and value-based patient care, focusing on education and long-term oral health outcomes.

 

The Advantages of Partnering with a DSO

 
Numerous advantages come with partnering with a DSO. The support in non-clinical business management tasks permits dental practitioners to devote more time to patient care. Moreover, DSOs provide dental practices with cost-effective access to advanced, HIPAA-compliant technology solutions, which includes both clinical and administrative software, along with new hardware to improve practice efficiency.

 
A significant benefit of DSO-supported practices is the implementation of sophisticated software solutions and strong security measures, such as SOC 2 Type II attestations. These measures combat cyber threats and ensure operational resilience, thus safeguarding not only the practice but also the patients’ sensitive information.

 

Streamlining Operations and Reducing Overhead

 
A range of services that help dental practices streamline their operations are offered by DSOs. These include:

 
• Employee relations management
 
• Negotiations with suppliers
 
• Insurance dealings
 
• Maintaining product inventory

 
Such services result in a more efficient and well-organized practice, allowing dentists to focus on their primary mission – providing excellent dental care.

 
To minimize operational disruption and maintain financial security, DSOs provide the following services:
 
• Continuous software updates
 
• 24/7 crisis support and cyber-attack readiness
 
• Monitoring of key network indicators such as backups, disk space, and antivirus updates
 
• Expedited credentialing and insurance company enrollment process

 
These services allow dental practices to more quickly generate revenue from claims.

 

Fostering Growth and Expanding Services

 
A significant role in fostering growth and expanding services of dental practices is played by DSOs. Some notable DSOs include:

 
• Heartland Dental, which selectively affiliates with the top echelon of US dental practices to ensure a good fit for their growth-oriented support model
 
• The Aspen Group
 
• Pacific Dental Services
 
• MB2 Dental
 
• Western Dental
 
• Dental Care Alliance

 
These DSOs have significantly expanded their network of practices, with robust plans for continued growth in new locations.

 
Affiliation with a DSO can provide dentists with:

 
• Access to professional development opportunities such as peer collaboration and specialized training, enhancing service quality
 
• Diversification of service offerings, branching into specialized areas like implants, orthodontics, cosmetic dentistry, and sleep apnea treatments
 
• Streamlined growth of dental practices by implementing delegated credentialing, which expedites the enrollment of dental practices with insurance payers.

 

Selecting the Right DSO for Your Practice

The decision to select the right DSO for your practice is vital and can have a significant impact on your practice’s success. Dentists should select DSOs that align with their preference for clinical autonomy and a doctor-led philosophy to ensure compatibility with their practice’s values.
Joining a DSO offers access to resources and a professional community, which are particularly beneficial during the transition involved in a dentist’s retirement or practice exit.

 

Evaluating DSO Business Models and Support Services

Evaluation of a DSO’s business model and support services is crucial when considering a partnership. DSOs may assist with insurance processing and negotiations, leading to potentially better rates for patients and increased revenue for the practice. However, it’s important to consider potential downsides as well.
Critics argue that DSOs may have a negative impact on smaller, independent practices, akin to the effects seen when large retail chains compete with local stores.

 

Understanding Contract Terms and Practice Ownership Options

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highlighting the importance of a thorough contract review before agreement.

It’s essential to understand the contract terms and practice ownership options when considering a partnership with a DSO. The terms laid out in DSO contracts dictate the responsibilities and expectations of all involved parties. Breaking a DSO contract can lead to complicated legal disputes, highlighting the importance of a thorough contract review before agreement.

 
Moreover, dentists may experience reduced independence due to having to comply with the management decisions and protocols established by a DSO. Considering options for practice ownership is crucial when entering into partnership with a DSO, as these decisions will affect the control and direction of the practice.

 

Case Studies: Success Stories of DSO Partnerships

Numerous success stories have emerged from DSO partnerships, demonstrating their positive impact on dental practices. For instance, Dr. Carrie Mauterer made the transition from private practice ownership to a partnership with Peak Dental Services, aligning with the DSO’s mission, which ultimately benefited her practice and patient care. Similarly, orthodontic practices, such as the one owned by Komal and Steffen, have also successfully partnered with DSOs, leveraging the organizational support for business growth and enhanced service delivery.

 
These success stories highlight the potential benefits of affiliating with a DSO. Dental professionals are increasingly transitioning from private practice ownership to partnerships with Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) to seek enhanced business efficiency and patient care.

 

Transforming Local Brands into Regional Leaders

 
Local dental brands are given opportunities by DSOs to expand beyond their initial market, often transforming them into regional leaders.

 
Examples of such transformations include:
• Areo Dental Group
 
• Blue Sage Dental Group
 
• Freedom Dental Management
 
• MB2 Dental
All of these brands, acting as multiple vendors, have witnessed substantial growth in practice numbers and revenue with the support of their whole team.
Despite their expansion, some dental brands, such as the one partnered with Peak Dental Services, have successfully sustained their practice’s core values while reaping the benefits of a larger support network. The continued success and growth of these local brands into regional powerhouses signify the effectiveness of DSO partnerships in the dental industry.

 

Achieving Work-Life Balance for Dentists

Given the demands of running a practice, achieving a work-life balance can be a challenge for dentists. However, affiliating with Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) allows dental practices to offload nonclinical, management, and operational tasks, contributing to an improved work-life balance. By reducing the time they need to spend on practice management, dentists partnered with DSOs can achieve a better work-life balance. Some benefits of affiliating with DSOs include:
• Access to a network of support and resources
 
• Assistance with administrative tasks such as billing and insurance
 
• Opportunities for professional development and continuing education
 
• Increased efficiency and productivity
 
• The ability to focus more on patient care

 
By partnering with a DSO, dentists can find a better balance between their professional and personal lives.

 A real-life example of this shift can be seen with Dr. Mauterer. After transitioning from managing all support for her practice to relying on a corporate DSO management team, she not only sustained her passion for dentistry but also improved her work-life balance.

 

The Future of Dental Practices with DSOs

Going forward, it’s anticipated that DSOs will continue integrating advanced technologies to enhance efficiency and patient outcomes in the dental field. This trend, coupled with a greater focus on innovation, is set to shape the future of dental practices.

 

Innovations and Technology in DSO-Supported Practices

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INNOVATE

DSOs typically invest in updated technology, taking on the responsibilities of negotiating, researching, and installing dental software and hardware. There is a growing trend in digital dentistry involving technologies such as intraoral scanners, digital x-rays, and CAD/CAM milling.

 
Additionally, the integration of artificial intelligence and automation in dental offices is anticipated to streamline a variety of administrative and clinical tasks. Some examples include:
• Appointment scheduling and reminders
 
• Patient record management
 
• Billing and insurance processing
 
• Treatment planning and case management

 
Tele-dentistry, with its remote access capabilities, is also becoming more integral in dental care, expanding access to dental services and making it easier for general dentists to consult with specialists.

 
These technological advancements within DSO-supported practices are expected to focus on improving operational efficiency and patient experiences.

 

The Growing Importance of DSOs in Community Dental Care

A growing role in community dental care is being played by DSOs. Nearly half of Americans had limited or poor access to quality healthcare, an issue that DSOs are actively addressing by improving oral healthcare access in rural areas and other underserved populations. By providing affordable care, DSOs are anticipated to enhance dental care access, especially for children on Medicaid, through the necessary resources and business support to increase service availability.

 
A notable example is Southern Family Dental Partners. With backing from private equity, it has significantly increased its presence across the Southeast by operating 17 locations, with a strategic focus on employee engagement and serving rural and midsized underserved communities.

 

Dental IT Support

Any modern dental practice considers dental IT support as an essential component. It plays a crucial role in safeguarding patient records and ensuring data security against cyber threats. Maintaining HIPAA compliance is a key responsibility for dental practices, and IT support can facilitate adherence to these regulations.

 
By decreasing time spent on administrative tasks and offering predictable budgeting through flat-rate pricing, outsourcing IT support can lead to cost savings for dental practices. Integrating cloud solutions in dental IT management can enhance data access, collaboration, and reduce operational maintenance expenses.

 
Additionally, IT support improves patient communication by enabling the use of digital appointment reminders and updates on treatment plans. Advanced scheduling software provided by IT services can help dental practices manage appointments more efficiently. Practice management software allows dental practices to track patient histories and manage appointments and finances more effectively.

 
And finally, IT support for dental practices includes the implementation of security measures to protect sensitive patient information, and IT disaster recovery plans and regular data backups are essential components of dental IT support. A dedicated support team is crucial to minimize downtime and data loss.

 

Summary

In conclusion, Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) are not just a trend, but a transformative force in the dental industry. They enable dentists to focus on patient care, provide support in non-clinical aspects, and offer resources for growth and expansion. While choosing the right DSO involves careful consideration of practice values and goals, the potential benefits are tremendous. With the continuous integration of advanced technologies and focus on community dental care, the future of DSO-supported practices is promising.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 
How many dental service organizations are there in the US?
There are about 300 dental service organizations (DSOs) in the US, with a presence in almost every state.

 
Who is the largest DSO in the United States?
The largest DSO in the United States is Heartland Dental, with more than 1,650 practices.

 
What are Dental Service Organizations (DSOs)?
Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) partner with dental practices to handle administrative tasks, marketing, and business management, allowing dentists to focus on patient care.

 
How do DSOs enhance dental care delivery?
DSOs enhance dental care delivery by managing administrative tasks, offering resources for continuing education, fostering collaboration, and emphasizing preventive wellness, ultimately improving patient care and overall practice efficiency.

 
What are the advantages of partnering with a DSO?
Partnering with a DSO can provide advantages like streamlined operations, advanced technology access, and enhanced cybersecurity measures to improve your dental practice.

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