by John J. Bonghi DDS, FAGD

Keeping your practice running even if you can't

March 1, 2011
Have you ever considered what would happen to your practice if, due to illness or accident, you could not work for an extended period of time?

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: dental practice transitions, professional disability, disability dental groups.

Have you ever considered what would happen to your practice if, due to illness or accident, you could not work for an extended period of time? Who would treat the scheduled patients? Who would treat the emergencies? Who would examine the hygiene patients who were scheduled six months ago? In the case of a dentist's death, who could the family turn to for assistance in keeping the practice viable until a purchaser was found?

A disability group can be the answer to many of these unexpected situations. It is a group of dentists who agree to assist each other for a period of time in the event of illness, disability, or death of a member. It gives the member-dentists peace of mind knowing their practice and staff will remain intact during their absence. It also gives the family of a deceased member someone to turn to for direction and assistance.

The formation of a disability group can be accomplished by as few as two dentists who see the value of such an arrangement. A legal document must be drafted to address all relevant issues needed to accomplish the goals of the group. Once a document is complete, other dentists can be approached who might be interested in sharing the goals of such a group.

Each member of the group donates coverage in the office of the disabled party. The amount of time is in direct proportion to the number of member-dentists. Scheduled patients are advised ahead of time of their dentist's temporary absence.

They are advised of the fact that the office is being covered by a group their dentist has previously joined, whose purpose is to provide assistance to one another should such a situation arise. It has been our experience that once this is explained, patients seem grateful for their dentist's concern and tend to want to keep their appointments.

With a disability group, the patients are seen in the office they are familiar with and interact with a staff they know. This gives patients a much more comfortable experience, rather than being sent to an unfamiliar office.

Additionally, the dentist treating these patients will have the benefit of having the patient's record, his or her dental, medical, and medication history, and previous X-rays, even though the two have never met.

Member-dentists receive no reimbursement for their services; all production is billed to and received by the disabled dentist's office. This gives the disabled dentist an additional source of income in addition to any benefits he or she may be eligible for from disability insurance.Because the schedule of the covering group is not always the same, it is generally more efficient to perform only single-visit procedures. Multiple-visit procedures are referred to specialists or put on a waiting list until the owner-dentist returns to work.

Another benefit of a disability group is that it provides continued employment for the disabled dentist's staff. In the case of an extended absence, an abbreviated staff schedule would have a negative impact on the staff's financial situation. Knowing the staff will still be there when he or she returns is very reassuring to the recuperating dentist.

A disability group is an excellent venue for the solo practitioner to ensure care for patients in the event of an extended absence. Many young dentists with large education and office debt report an added sense of security in being part of such a group. It can also be very reassuring to the member-dentists that should there be a death, their family will have a familiar and trusted source for information and guidance.

The advantages of a disability group far outweigh any disadvantages. It is truly a win-win situation for all concerned parties – the patients, doctor, staff, and in the case of a death, their family – all reaping immeasurable benefits.

John Bonghi, DDS, has been in private practice in Niagara Falls, N.Y., for 39 years. He is a former assistant clinical professor at the School of Dentistry, SUNY/Buffalo. He has a fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry and the International College of Dentists. Dr. Bonghi has been involved with continuing education and organized dentistry throughout most of his career. Contact him at [email protected].

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