Accommodating inevitable changes dental practices face in their daily operations to maintain the delivery of cost-effective, high quality treatment can be potentially challenging as we look to the future. However, the concept of true group practice, could mitigate some of the potentially significant problems of the next decade.
A Group Practice Today
A group practice currently works in various ways. At minimum, it is a cost-sharing relationship where two or more practitioners practice together in the same environment, share the same space, equipment, and some human resources making it more financially attractive than a single practitioner entity.
A New Look for a Dental Practice
We need to predict how a normative dental practice might look in the future compared to how it looks today. One could conjure up the image of a mini-dental hospital environment. The future group practice may replicate (in functionality but not in appearance) a small hospital dental department and consists of the following:
This forward-looking scenario involves the ability of clinicians to refer internally to colleagues who may have a special interest in and aptitude for particular procedures. In addition, the practice would need to support committed part-time specialists who are equipped in-house to provide more sophisticated procedures on-site which require the expertise of certified specialists. Furthermore, such practices will need to have more efficient and cost-effective in-house laboratories.
There is the potential that some larger group practices may link with onsite family medicine practices that will appeal to future patient groups. Some of this may suggest a “Star Wars” quality atmosphere, but as we gradually transition towards “true group practice”, we can adjust our predictions to reflect reality.
The benefits of such true group practices address many challenges we may face currently as well as in the future. One important challenge of establishing and maintaining a true group practice, as discussed in an earlier edition, is to provide a more effective financial structure to our existing delivery system. For example, the general practitioner who focuses on a particular area within the group practice could provide more sophisticated-type services in-house. The current trend of digital dentistry suggests a true group practice requires serious consideration.
The impact of digital dentistry is currently gaining momentum in practices aside from those of early adopters. This forces practitioners to consider how they can acquire the expensive hardware and knowledge-based staff to successfully introduce technologically-sensitive modalities in order to be considered a contemporary practice.
Renewed interest in the group practice concept stems from three different realities motivated, principally, by a diminishing patient pool and a significant increase in the number of dentists.
Patient demand for more complex “in-house” treatments prompted by internet searches may exceed the range of services most single practitioners can adequately provide;
2.Availability of clinicians to offer extended clinical hours to accommodate an increasingly challenged workforce who seek treatment.
3.The economic reality of rising human resources and location costs as well as the necessary high expenditures for digital support systems, both clinical and administrative to remain current in the eyes of the healthcare consumer.
Change is always challenging, but it is looming on the horizon. We can choose to hold onto our status quo practices, which may be redundant, or we can embrace change. If implemented gradually and in a personal manner, it will benefit our patients, profession and society, in general. We can benefit from the changing landscape, or we can fall victim to obsolescence. I am confident the profession will re-examine its modus operandi and continue to be the necessary progressive health entity that it has been throughout history.