Strength in numbers: Group practices come of age

April 1, 2003
Dr. John Jameson interviews Douglas W. Brown. Brown is president and CEO of DentalCare Partners, Inc.,

Group practices come of age--An interview with Doug Brown, CEO of Dental Care Partners, Inc.

by John Jameson, DDS

Dr. John Jameson interviews Douglas W. Brown. Brown is president and CEO of DentalCare Partners, Inc., a dental management services company that is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio and has more than 60 affiliated dental practices in the midwest and southeast. Brown received his MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in 1984 and is a member of the American Academy of Group Dental Practice. Contact Brown at (800) 487-4867, email: [email protected], or visit www.dcpartners.com.

Dr. Jameson: How did the concept of group practices emerge?

Doug Brown: There are many examples of health care practices consolidating, such as optical services. One of the first practices to apply this to dentistry did so in partnership with Sears in Cleveland in 1981, and they did extremely well. The power of advertising and credit (with the Sears charge card), as well as the credibility of the Sears name, brought in a lot of patients.

It was a model that worked very well for DentalCare Partners' founding practitioner, Dr. Edward H. Meckler. Over time, he expanded to about 30 dental practices. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Meckler wanted to continue to grow, so he brought in some investors and expanded even more. We currently have more than 60 practices that operate under the Sears Dental and DentalWorks names. This concept has evolved and other models, like Orthodontic Centers of America, have emerged. However, unlike OCA, DentalCare Partners has chosen to remain a private company.

Dr. Jameson: What are the advantage to owning or operating this type of practice? What kind of opportunity does it bring for dentists and hygienists?

Doug Brown: We want workforce stability, and we think that our new "Doctor Partnership" model, which allows doctors to participate in practice ownership, offers both increased earnings opportunity and a sound base for retirement savings. Profit sharing also is an attractive feature. DentalCare Partners also provides management services, including administrative support such as accounting and human resources, and equipment and facility leasing.

Dr. Jameson: How do these types of practices function as a group? Are the accounting, computer, and other systems centralized, or do they function independently?

Doug Brown: It varies. Within our practice, we currently are in the process of converting to a more centralized system called PracticeView that utilizes an AS400 online format. Eventually, any doctor will be able to go to any of our 64 practices and have access to records and billing information.

Dr. Jameson: What are some of the other benefits to working in this type of practice?

Doug Brown: Employee benefits are excellent. We pay for malpractice insurance and contribute to healthcare. We also offer a 401-K plan with employer matching. Probably the most important aspect of our organization is that we offer a clear career path for employees, both administrative and clinical. Just like other business organizations of this size, we have multiple departments and management positions (dental directors, for example).

Another example is the doctor who is closer to retirement and may want to do less clinical dentistry and mentor younger doctors. Administrative employees also have clear paths to career advancement.

Dr. Jameson: Are group practices the wave of the future?

Doug Brown: Our model of group practices, where the doctor participates in ownership, really offers the best of both worlds in that it enables high productivity and is profitable by taking the administrative burden off of doctors.

Combine that with the opportunity for doctors to be true entrepreneurs, and it's a truly attractive and lucrative option. Doctors initially own approximately one-third of the practice; they may eventually become majority owners, but will still receive the administrative support they need to get the job done. We also offer strong marketing support — advertising and mass media — to get the word out to patients about the advantages of a group practice, such as convenient locations.

We consider ourselves a well-kept secret. But the doctors who have been with us for more than 15 years attest to the success of this system, as well as the support and opportunity it offers. We currently operate in nine states and 15 cities; the concept is definitely catching on with dentists and patients alike.

This concept may not be for everyone. But dental practice is becoming increasingly complex. Workplace issues and third-party reimbursement make owning and operating a practice more challenging than ever. Group practice offers a real — and profitable — alternative.

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