Associateships: The Right Move for You?
By: Allen Vean, DMD
Imagine this scene: You walk into the office ready to start the day and your office manager approaches you, asking to speak with you. Your first thought is, “uh-oh!” Your office manager is concerned that patient waiting time is increasing and patients must wait for three to four weeks for treatment. Furthermore, new patients have expressed concerns regarding wait time for an appointment. This scenario has been in existence for at least four to six months. On occasion, emergencies cannot be seen on the same day. Wow! What a beautiful problem to have. Perhaps, it is time to evaluate the need for an associate.
I have never been a “numbers” person. I believe in taking the best care of your patients, and the numbers will follow. In evaluating the prospect of adding an associate dentist, the senior dentist should consider several issues before a decision is made. Some factors to consider when taking on an associate include:
– Personal and professional long-term goals
– Facility and/or office hours expansion
– Practice treatment philosophy
– Physical and technology upgrades
– Overhead financial implications
– Termination clauses
These are just a few of the many issues that can and will arise. We are fortunate to have many outstanding transition specialists in the metro area who are ready and willing to help.
I encourage prospective associates to spend as much time as possible in an office to make an informed decision. This will not be a one-day working interview and no time limit should be set. It could take up to a week or longer.
The reception area is extremely important and often overlooked. A patient decides if a practice is going to be their home in less than 30 seconds. This area should be clean, attractive and up-to-date. How are patients greeted on the phone? These are the first interactions patients have with a practice. Is computer technology an integral part of the practice from both a business and clinical aspect? Is social media utilized?
Clinical records should be up-to-date, complete and easy to comprehend. Evaluate the quality of the care by examining records of longstanding patients. Emergencies can give a good insight. Are most emergencies from new patients? Are they existing patients with issues not identified previously or from prior treatment? Treatment failures soon after restoration can be a red flag. Talk with the staff to get a feel for the routine of the office.
The senior dentist must remember that this is a peer to peer relationship. Patients both old and new must sense confidence in each dentist for a seamless addition. Treatment plans should be reviewed by both practitioners to make sure the patients know that there is agreement. Hopefully, there will be some differences in treatment plans. These types of exchanges are healthy. If both parties can come together, everyone can grow and provide better care in the practice.
How the practice interacts with specialists is another important issue often overlooked. Is all treatment done in-house or are specialists utilized for advanced care? We are all held to the standard of care regulation. Specialists can become a valuable referral source for a practice. In addition, their expertise can be important in treatment planning. As a pediatric dentist, my philosophy has always been, “What would I do if this were my child?” We must all realize and evaluate our limitations based on experience and training.
The senior dentist needs to evaluate the prospective associate during this time as well. Prior clinical experience, professional recommendations and dental education are a few considerations. Even though interaction with the office staff may be limited, one can get a feel for future relationships. Honest, personal conversation away from the office may offer another avenue for evaluation.
Of course, there are other professional issues not covered in this short article. I have tried to bring up some of the more important ones. If both parties have a professional meeting of the minds, I would encourage them to go forward with contacting the appropriate consultants, attorneys and accountants.
Dr. Allen Vean is a Denver native and completed his dental degree at Washington University. He completed his post-doctorate pediatric training at The Children’s Health Center in Minneapolis, MN. Dr. Vean has been involved in teaching at the post-graduate level at the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, TX, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Denver Health. Dr. Vean recently retired from more than 30 years in pediatric private practice and is currently co-editor of MDDS’s Articulator magazine.
The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.