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Group Practice

(Note: I can’t remember who sent this to me or where I might have read it. If it interests you, be sure to click the hyperlink in the last paragraph to read more. MG)

In recent years, dentists have found safety in numbers. Group practices, (defined by the American Dental Association as having 5 or more dentists), are rapidly increasing, while solo practitioners seem to be on a slow, but steady, decline. For now, large group practices remain a small piece of the overall dental industry, but it’s becoming more common to see large group and corporate practices popping up all over the industry.

While dental groups have been around for nearly a century, (The Journal of the American Dental Association reported 16.3 percent of dentists who graduated between 1929-1939 were part of a group practice), groups of 8 or more dentists have only been a significant part of the industry since the 1970s. This is due in part to the developing insurance needs by employers and their desire to cover groups of employees not already covered by medical insurance.

Since the 1970s, many factors have fueled the growth of large group practices, such as:

The Lifting of the Advertising Ban. After the ban preventing dentists from advertising was lifted in 1979, dentists were allowed to start advertising their practices and services. Advertising privileges allowed organizations to delve into mainstream marketing, which in turn, required expenditures well above what the average solo dental practitioner could afford. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a trend toward groups that were marketing-oriented, with larger numbers of dentists, formed to create the types of budgets that would not only make this type of marketing available and profitable, but also cover the shared expenses for facilities and staff.

Start-up Costs. Corporate and large-group practices are attractive to many dentists because they give them a way to lessen, or sometimes avoid completely, the million-dollar set-up costs for new practices, and possibly reduce the six-figure debt most graduates have after dental school. According to the American Dental Education Association, the average amount of dental school debt per student in 2011 was $180,557. Group practices help to alleviate the burdens of these debts.

Keeping Client Costs Low. Doctors who choose a larger group practice often do so because their strengths lie in treating patients rather than performing day-to-day tasks required in a small business. A dentist in private practice spends only about 60 percent of his or her week seeing patients, with the balance spent running his or her office. Most dentists practicing within a large group spend 90 percent or more of their week seeing and treating patients. Additionally, group practices allow general practitioners to work alongside specialists, often saving patients time, money, and the stress of finding a specialist, should that need arise.

The Health Policy Resources Center found individual dentist practices account for 92 percent of all dental practices, and very large group practices with 20 or more dentists make up only 3 percent of the total. That same study concluded that the rate of solo practitioners has fallen from 76 percent in 2006 to 69 percent in 2010, and large group practices rose 25 percent between 2009-2011. The 2009 ADA Survey of Dental Practice shows that 22 percent of dentists work in a two-dentist practice, and 18.2 percent of dentists work in practices with more than two dentists, which includes group practices.