What are DSOs, and Should you be Worried?


Dental Support Organizations or Dental Service Organizations (DSO) are a hot topic of debate currently. The increasing visibility and growth of DSO affiliated practices has brought a lot of attention to this segment. As with any debate, facts and subjective opinions abound. But before you start worrying about this perceived threat to your practice, let’s take a look at what a DSO actually does.

What are Dental Service Organizations?

DSOs have arisen to fill a long felt need in the dental industry. Dentists and other healthcare workers have always focused most of their time and attention on the science of their profession. Most of them are more interested in learning about new techniques than thinking about payroll or accounting.

But running your own clinic requires a dentist to be a great business manager as well. You need to worry about risk, training for your employees, compliance with regulations and covering your bills each month. If you have just started setting up your practice, you also need to think about raising capital while paying off your student loans.

Unfortunately the reality is that not all dentists are good with the business aspects of managing a practice. This is precisely where DSOs step in. These organizations provide support for practices in crucial areas like payroll, accounting, HR, compliance and even IT. These are all mostly administrative and non care aspects of running a clinic. DSOs can also help with the capital risk that many dental students cannot afford to take. Many dentists start out with DSOs for the steady paycheck before transitioning to their own practice.

Pros and Cons of Contracting with DSOs

There are quite a few pros on the side of DSOs. It’s a viable option for those just starting out in the profession. The DSO takes care of business management and support, freeing you up to take care of patients. Even experienced dentists often contract with them since they provide lower costs (due to economies of scale that small clinics cannot access) and greater efficiency on the business side of things.

These lower costs have helped DSO affiliated practices to provide services to those who couldn’t afford dental care at a regular dentist. In some states, DSOs have reduced the cost per visit for a patient quite dramatically, especially for low income households that rely on Medicaid. Practices can spend more of their resources on dental equipment or staff since they have lower operational and administrative expenses.

However there are cons to such situations as well. Not all DSOs are well managed and operated. Some of these organizations have been known to pressure dentists to perform more work than necessary. If a DSO is not managed properly, then the clinics contracting with them will certainly not see lower costs or increased efficiency. Quite a few dentist also dislike being part of a corporation that regulates their hours and workload.

Should You Worry about DSOs?

As we can see so far, there is nothing inherently good or bad about a DSO. Contracting with them can be beneficial for some dentists while others may find it detrimental. The growth of DSOs has worried some industry associations but there is no hard evidence that they hurt dental practices at present.

There have been many sensationalist articles online that paint a scary future for dentists due to DSOs but nothing could be farther from the truth. Some dentists will always prefer to manage their own practice, just as many patients love the personalized care they get from their family dentist. DSOs will simply become another part of the rich dental industry landscape which today includes everything from multispeciality clinics to sole practitioners.

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