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What is a DSO in Dental? (And Do You Fit the Demographic?)

By Planet DDS
February 6, 2020

The right question at the right time can unlock opportunity. For example, like many dentists burdened by the business side of dentistry you might be tempted to ask, “what is a DSO in dental?”

It’s a common question these days. The answers (and opinions) will most likely shift your perspective one way or another.

What’s important to the discussion is getting clear on the facts. Then you can determine whether you fit the demographic.

What are DSOs?

Perspectives around exactly what is a DSO company are packaged within the abbreviation. The DSO model represents a more corporate function known as dental service organizations (DSO).

The American dental landscape is being transformed by their footprint. Basically, imagine expanded dental care options across a number of group practices.

The DSO affiliated dentist and his or her team create or join a dental group. With strong corporate support the dentist and team focus on dentistry while handing-off the business functions to the organization.

Here’s a simple answer for the question, “what is a DSO in dental?”

TWEET THIS: “DSOs essentially help dentists separate the clinical from the clerical.”

How are DSOs Impacting the Dental Industry?

If you’re a dental professional you’re aware that the practice of dentistry involves more than patient treatment. There’s the ever-present business of dentistry that demands a significant amount of time and energy.

Dental support organizations provide welcome business and management support. Their supportive culture allows you to stay in a practice leadership role without sacrificing your care standards.

DSOs contract with dental practices. And their large scale support network gives you access to quality services such as…

  • New and emerging dental technology
  • Insurance reimbursement support
  • Reducing the professional overhead burden for new dentists
  • Incentives for joining and the elimination of dental education debt
  • Skill training and collaboration with colleagues

More about those specific benefits in a moment. But first let’s explore the scope of DSOs across dentistry.

How Many Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) Are There?

Comparisons across the dental industry would include existing solo practices and group practices. Trends indicate that overall, US dental practices are catching on to the DSO model.

The exact number of DSOs is difficult to calculate. But the top DSOs in the U.S. represent nearly 4,000 locations.

Affiliation data is proof that the DSO model works for some but not for everyone. While you might want to join the trend of dentists desiring a more part-time business role in exchange for more full-time patient care it makes sense to understand the appeal.

What Are the Growing Trends of DSOs?

The American dental industry provides your dental practice a variety of business models. Many of those models require a high investment of not only time and training but financing as well.

If you’re a private practice dentist you might be initially drawn to the DSO’s secure (low-risk) financial backing typical of private equity firms. Independent practices and group practices throughout the United States have improved their financial future through affiliation with a DSO.

Being financially secure, debt-free, and off-loading the tasks associated with the business of dentistry are dominant trends with DSOs.

What’s Drawing Dental Practices to DSOs?

Your desire to focus on patients can be disrupted by many tasks including non-clinical operations and challenges associated with human resources. Allowing you, as a dentist, to focus on dental care is a huge  draw among others to the DSO model.

A fundamental of DSOs is that independent practices affiliated with them can care for their patients without being overwhelmed by the business of dentistry. This alone might attract you to consider affiliation.

As you’re processing the trends and your own personal attraction to the DSO model it might help to consider the common advantages along with a disadvantage or two.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of DSOs

Here a few advantages to think about.

Technology advances

Dental technology is advancing as we speak. But the financial and implementation challenges can be daunting.

DSOs provide the research, cost negotiation and the necessary implementation, training, and ongoing tech support required by emerging technologies.

Compliance monitoring and assistance

Dental industry regulations are a routine concern. HIPAA and OSHA violations can put your practice at risk.

DSOs monitor compliance trends including patient communication and the new regulatory laws impacting dentistry. Their assistance can save you time and provide the security of knowing you’re compliant.

Career growth and peer collaboration

Keeping your skills and leadership sharp requires time. And problems can arise that exceed your level of expertise.

DSOs have a built-in community of peer support, training, and problem solving collaboration that you might not have as an independent dentist. Their specialist relationships provide you hands-on access for professional growth and expanded services.

Insurance assistance

Policy changes and issues with claims acceptance and reimbursements are headaches that require time and energy. Production can suffer when your front desk team is forced to daily solve a variety of insurance problems.

DSOs have the ability to negotiate better rates with a broader network of insurance providers. Their insurance divisions are equipped to assist you with answering most of the questions your patients have about claim filing and reimbursement.

Healthy work-life balance

Work overwhelm is a leading cause of stress outside of the office. Achieving a healthy work-life balance can feel elusive when treating patients and managing a practice.

DSOs take the majority of the management tasks off your plate. That gives you more freedom to focus on patients, maintain a life outside of the practice, and help you avoid career burnout.

As you’re thinking about those strong advantages of the DSO model it will also help to understand a couple of disadvantages.

Equity loss in your practice

Selling your practice can be appealing. But like any sale, there are costs you should be aware of.

DSOs are in the investment business. They desire to improve their financial portfolio with each practice purchase.

Your loss of equity is their gain. And when affiliating you transition from owner to that of a salaried contractor.

Contractural relationship

Perhaps you started your practice out of a love for dentistry and the desire to provide dental care independently. You are free from obligation to anyone except your financial investment in running a practice.

DSOs operate on a contractural basis with their affiliated dentists. You are required to comply with their rules for patient treatment and business decisions.

It is essential that you review all contractural obligations before you affiliate. And while doing so request side-bar conversations with current DSO members to get clarity on how a particular DSO operates according to contract.

What Does the Future of DSOs Look Like?

It’s not likely that DSOs will decrease in popularity. The changes alone within the dental industry will prompt many – perhaps you – to consider aligning your future with one. 

DSOs are here for the long haul. And that drives the need for complimentary support from businesses (like Denticon and our Dental Practice Management Software) that can assure your decision is equally supported with relevant resources.

Interested in learning how a successful DSO use’s Denticon cloud-based practice management software to power its clinical, operational, reporting, and IT infrastructure?  Here’s an inside look at how Denticon was the key to growth for this DSO.