We ask two experts the same question on a complex issue.
Question: Other than a standard letter, what are the best ways for a selling dentist to protect goodwill and keep patients in the practice throughout a transition?
Selling your practice can be a stressful time for both your patients and staff. In the excitement of taking the next step in your professional life, it can be easy to underestimate the strength of the bond your patients and practice team may feel toward you.
It’s therefore critical to take measures to reassure your patients and staff well before your departure in order to preserve goodwill and ensure the ongoing success of your practice. Mailing a transition announcement two to three months before you leave is fundamental. Here are several more steps you can take to help keep patients in the practice:
• Plan a meet and greet event at the practice for patients and staff to get to know the buying practitioner before he or she comes on board. The face-to-face interaction will help patients feel more relaxed with the new doctor and assure them that their care will continue to be in good hands.
• Have the new dentist work alongside you for a month or two before your departure, conducting routine examinations and scheduling follow-up appointments. This will give patients time to become accustomed to the idea of working with someone new in your office.
• Introduce all staff members to the buying dentist as soon as possible so they feel comfortable and confident that they will be valued members of the transition team. Try to keep existing staff members on board throughout the transition period as they are vital links to the success of the transition and retention of current patients.
Clearly, the primary elements of a successful transition are full transparency with staff and open communication with your team and patients. By following these guidelines, you can help ease the process and ensure a positive transition for all concerned.
BRANDON S. COLLIER, JD, LLM
As a lawyer who represents dentists in practice transitions, my fundamental message is, “Dr. Seller, view your job in this transition as doing whatever you can to ensure your buyer’s success.” First, you owe this to Dr. Buyer, who is paying you a substantial sum for your practice and goodwill. Second, by ensuring your buyer’s success, you will provide an ongoing viable practice for your former patients and employees, thereby building a wonderful legacy. To do this well, you must come to grips with transferring your beloved practice to someone else. Do it willingly and happily. Build up Dr. Buyer at every opportunity, and never undermine him or her, especially around patients and staff.
As for specifics, the introduction letter to patients and referring doctors is standard. The costs are usually split 50/50, and the letter should be mailed to too many recipients as opposed to too few recipients. The general rule for this letter is that the more sentimental it is, the better. Both doctors should collaborate on it.
Also, Dr. Seller should agree to stay on for a transition period of about six months in order to make personal introductions to patients and referring doctors, and to teach Dr. Buyer how to manage the office. This is included in the goodwill price, so there is no additional consideration. Dr. Seller’s working hours can be reduced over time. Dr. Seller might host an open house to welcome friends of the practice or organize lunches with the major referral sources to help cement those relationships.
One last point: Dr. Buyer has a responsibility here as well. Dr. Buyer’s greatest asset going forward will be Dr. Seller’s goodwill and cooperation. Far too often we see Dr. Buyer blow it, either due to immaturity or insecurity. Dr. Buyer should be respectful of Dr. Seller, praise him or her as a good person and clinician, and welcome Dr. Seller back from time to time as a friend of the practice.
It’s all pretty simple. If you treat the other person the same way you would like to be treated, the practice transition should be a success for both sides.
Andrew Ventura is the west region business development manager for Wells Fargo Practice Finance. He helps doctors successfully transition into ownership roles by providing financing solutions and leveraging his experience in the health-care market to help ensure a smooth and successful transition. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandon S. Collier, JD, LLM, is an attorney who provides tax and business planning services to the dental profession through Collier & Associates Inc., a law and consulting firm representing doctors in all phases of practice transitions and appraisals, retirement plan services, and tax-deductible CE seminars. He is the editor of the biweekly Collier & Associates Doctors’ Newsletter, which provides thousands of doctors with timely and practical business, tax, and wealth-building advice. For more information, visit CollierAdvisors.com or call (216) 765-1199.