8 Questions to Consider Before Joining a DSO

Partnerships with dental service organizations (DSOs) are becoming increasingly popular. This is because DSOs offer security and support that goes beyond a traditional partnership. From marketing and accounting services, to streamlined systems developed by HR and IT professionals, DSOs handle administrative tasks that make dentists’ lives easier. However, that doesn’t mean all DSOs are the same.

The actions of some DSOs have contributed to a damaging stigma of corporate suits who prioritize stringent protocols and collections over quality patient care and experience. However, it’s crucial to recognize now that many modern support groups are changing that negative reputation. No longer a cookie-cutter option, every DSO offers a unique practice model, varying levels of clinical autonomy, and differing definitions of patient care. If you’re wondering which DSO would be the best long-term partner for your practice, consider asking several questions during your research phase to make the best, most-informed decision. 

Simplify Your Decision-Making Process

Choosing the right partner starts with first answering a simple question: “What is my why?” Like a compass, your answer will guide future conversations to ensure you’re on track with a transition plan that aligns with your practice legacy. Some common motivators for partnering with a DSO include:

  • Increasing growth opportunities: this group model can support you through better technology, clinical mentorship, financial investments, and more.
  • Experiencing a better work-life balance: group dentistry can take on the demands of business management, freeing you to have a much more balanced lifestyle.
  • Transitioning to retirement: a transition to a group can help you plan your exit from dentistry on a schedule that works best for you.

For a practical look into how your “why” can guide you, here are questions to consider incorporating into your research process if you have one of the three goals mentioned above. 

Increase Growth Opportunities 

1. What are your growth expectations and who defines them?

Understand that growth takes time and investment. Whether growth to you looks like clinical development and mentorship, improved practice efficiencies, physical expansions and technology upgrades, or a combination of these, recognize that changes will not come overnight. Any DSO who guarantees a quick, one-size-fits-all approach may be undermining the qualities and skills that make your practice unique. 

Find a DSO who appreciates your clinical expertise and aspires to reach the targets that are important to you. When a DSO pushes initiatives that don’t align with your needs, you may find yourself with a burnt out team serving unhappy patients. Our team achieves more with strategic planning, intentional goal-setting, and constant communication. We partner with our clinicians to ensure the goals we set are healthy, stable, and sustainable for long-term success.

2. What role will we each play in helping my dental practice grow?

Any mutually beneficial partnership will require work on both sides to ensure success. While your in-office team provides expert care to your patients, make sure your DSO partner is willing to deliver the backend support you need to run efficiently. For many DSOs, this could look like new patient marketing campaigns, improved IT infrastructure, or coordinating a physical update to your space. 

In addition, Apex empowers our dentists to be clinical leaders within their practice. Together, we’ll work closely with you to achieve your growth goals, leveraging your leadership skills to champion initiatives that will inspire and empower your team to exceed expectations..

3. How will changes in the patient experience contribute to achieving the level of growth I want?

This question requires specific consideration into the tactics that support success. For some DSOs, growth means new patient specials, extended office hours with shorter appointment blocks, and an expanded in-network status with insurance carriers. This structure will certainly get more patients in the door, but will they be long-term patients who align with your clinical care philosophy and practice legacy?

At Apex, we will never infringe on the private practice values that contribute to an outstanding patient experience. To us, this means prioritizing patient relationships, minimizing staff turnover, and building steady and reliable marketing strategies that garner new patients while maintaining your existing patient base.

Experience a Better Work-Life Balance

1. I’m burnt out and need support to lighten the load. How will my day-to-day change with a partnership?

The goal of every DSO should be to ease the burdens of practice management. While many support groups are different in the specific services they offer, most have a team of professionals who help with Accounting, HR, IT, Marketing, and Operations. At varying degrees, a group partnership will lessen your hours spent on payroll, staffing, procedure handbooks, and marketing plans, so more time can be dedicated to serving patients at the highest level. 

The percentage of ownership you retain after a practice transition typically corresponds with the administrative responsibilities you will be expected to continue. As a sole private practice owner, 100% of the burden is yours. In contrast, when you partner with Apex, you’ll find yourself relieved by a full suite of services nearly overnight

2. How hands-on will the support team be?

Some DSOs offer high-level support with limited contact and visibility, remotely taking care of services like accounts payable, collections, or online reputation management. However, our support staff at Apex believes in constant communication as a key to our success. We make ourselves accessible to every level of our practice teams to guarantee our goals are aligned and needs are met within each department. Ask this question early on to establish what communication style is the best fit for you.

3. I want balance, but I’m concerned about compensation. Will I earn less as a Partner than I earn now as an Owner?

It’s not uncommon for Apex Partner Dentists to earn as much, or even more than they were paid as a practice owner. Our clinicians have found their capacity for patient care increases after close, and wasted costs on overhead and unnecessary expenses are nearly eliminated by the hands-on service of our professional support team. 

Further, consider that most DSOs give selling partners the opportunity to reinvest. Some offer minority ownership at the practice level, while others offer buy-in at the larger organization level. Both models require long-term success and growth to see significant compensation.

With Apex, your equity is diversified across our entire family of practices, meaning our partners benefit exponentially from the compounded growth of our group, not just their practice alone. In fact, Apex has continuously been named as one of the fastest growing private companies in the nation by Inc. 5000, proving our success and longevity in this rapidly growing industry.

Transition into Retirement

1. How can we structure my commitment period?

Commitment period refers to the timeframe you desire to continue clinical care after your practice sells. Some dentists have a firm retirement date in mind, while others plan for a gradual transition with flexibility to see select cases on a part-time schedule. By learning your potential partner’s options for a commitment period, together, you can find the structure that best fits your needs. 

Understand that commitment periods can sometimes pivot based on life circumstances, but they are written in your contract for a reason. Some DSOs consider dentists to be easily replaceable, in which case your commitment period can act as protection against undue termination. At Apex, we encourage our clinicians to continue practicing for as long as they’re comfortable. 

2. Does your patient care philosophy align with mine?

After dedicating your career to defining your patient care philosophy and building your practice legacy, you would hate to see your efforts dissolve due to a poorly-matched partnership. Patient care should be at the foundation of any DSO model. Reflect on the qualities that make your patient base and practice unique so you can determine the conditions that should remain once a transition occurs. For example, you could ask how the following components of patient care may be affected:

  • Clinical autonomy
  • Treatment protocols
  • Staff training and mentorship
  • Practice branding and community reputation
  • Patient feedback and satisfaction
  • Schedule maintenance
  • Production and collections metrics
  • Communication and collaboration

Unlike some DSOs who focus on profits and quotas, Apex believes that patients are the heart of our industry. Our unique, non-branded model of service is called Private Practice Reimagined®, which emphasizes our mission to preserve the identity and legacy of the practice you’ve established within your community.

What makes Apex stand out?

We call ourselves Apex Dental Partners, because we are more than a DSO. We are a partnership of like-minded individuals with a focus on service. By staying true to the foundational principles of private practice, like integrity, excellence, and service, we have set ourselves apart from the old-fashioned group model of support. If you’re ready to learn how an Apex partnership can enhance your practice, maximize your day-to-day, or continue your legacy, contact us today.

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By choosing the right partner, selling your dental practice can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional career. At Apex Dental Partners, we work closely with you every step of the way to ensure you feel comfortable and confident you're making the best decision for your future.