Competing with “corporate” dentistry (in our opinion)

June 1, 2012
A frequent topic of concern with our design clients is the impact of a “corporate” or franchise dental facility ...

Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA

A frequent topic of concern with our design clients is the impact of a “corporate” or franchise dental facility moving into their area and the competition that comes with it. The corporate business model might compete with any new facility vision they may have as an owner-occupied dental practice. To be clear, many corporate dental practices are owned long-distance by dentist partnerships, but not in the traditional sense where the dentist(s)/owner(s) is also the main provider and has real-time oversight of the provision of dental services within the facility. If these are your concerns as an owner-occupied provider, exactly what are you competing against?

Price — The market will always find ways to lower costs for products and services and often lobby and promote regulatory change to make it happen, which, can be a good thing on many levels. Corporate dental business models are first and foremost competing with you on price. Do you want to base your dental practice model on attracting patients who are seeking the lowest price for treatment? Many do, and there is nothing wrong with that (e.g., Walmart business model).

So how does competing on price against corporate dentistry impact my plans for a new facility?

Corporate dentistry business models take advantage of bulk purchasing for equipment, materials, and supplies at higher discount structures than you are typically able to negotiate. Corporate-designed facilities are also replicated with each new location driving down soft costs and construction costs.

In a single-doctor practice, you might approach the reduced cost ratios of a duplicated franchise facility by minimizing partitioning, painting all wall surfaces, selecting vinyl composition tile for flooring, selecting acoustical tiles with generic fluorescent fixtures for all ceilings, and purchasing used dental equipment. Unfortunately, this design approach also has the potential to create an outcome that will be perceived as more generic and sterile than the franchise facility with which you are competing. If they have a choice, patients seeking lower pricing will still typically select the facility with a more “pleasant environment” that offers similar pricing.

Marketing — Corporate dental practice models have much larger marketing budgets than your practice, unless you are an exception. Corporate/franchise facilities are located in highly developed retail areas and invest heavily in the full spectrum of marketing venues.

What can I do to compete with this corporate model that creates lower cost ratio facilities and has a much larger marketing budget than I do?

Focus your competitive efforts with corporate dentistry models based on “the experience” of going to the dentist. The facility is often central to the patient’s perception.

For those of you who view your practice through the eyes of your patients and have the mindset that “we treat patients, not teeth,” you easily grasp creating a facility that enhances the patient experience.

Dental facilities that cater to a positive patient experience often include these features:

  • Ample adjacent parking
  • Warm and inviting waiting areas that combine residential and commercial scale features in unique and creative ways
  • Lighting and/or glazing design that creates areas of high light and shadow for visual interest
  • Front desk areas and consultation spaces with privacy for confidential conversations
  • Attractive restrooms with quality fixtures, recessed trash drops, and integrated dispensers
  • Corridor transition spaces with architectural design elements, natural light, varied finishes, and appropriate artwork
  • Nonthreatening, clutter-free clinical spaces, including operatories that address both esthetic and functional issues
  • State-of-the-art equipment and technology
  • Adequate staff areas with congruent design elements that reinforce to your team that their experience in your facility is very important to you

If your initial response to reading this list of features is, “Oh my gosh, patients will think I’m gouging them to pay for this facility, and I’ll lose many of my current patients,” you may not be a good candidate to compete on the experiential level. That’s OK!

For those of you inspired by photos and descriptions of experiential-based facilities, a well-conceived facility that maximizes the patient experience can greatly help you compete in an evolving marketplace.

Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA, are owners of PDG – Practice Design Group. Located in Buda, Texas, PDG offers a full range of design and consulting services to dentists nationwide. For information, call (800) 511-7110 or visit www.practicedesigngroup.com.

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