What is a DSO?
“DSO-supported dentistry is a growing professional career choice that would not exist if dentists didn’t want them or need them.”
— Dr. Quinn Dufurrena, Executive Director, Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO).
The Role of Dental Support Organizations
At their simplest, DSOs provide support services to dentists, with their services ranging from practice consulting to total practice management. While dentists are always responsible for patient care, clinical decision making, and patient records, DSOs can help streamline and/or consolidate certain administrative requirements of the practice in order to improve their efficiency and productivity.
Whether recent graduate or practicing dentist, ther are many who may benefit from practicing in a DSO environment. Those desiring flexible schedules, bearing the burden of significant student loan debt, or needing to build competency in a structured practice model are ideal for the practice supported by a DSO. New dentists who wish to learn from proven business systems rather than a traditional solo practitioner are also well suited for the DSO model. To this point, the ADA in 2010 reported that 6% of dentists surveyed had a practice supported by a DSO, and 15% of dentists who had practiced for fewer than 10 years were working for a DSO-supported practice.
Advantages of DSOs
Traditional dental practices commonly outsource nonclinical tasks such as billing, payroll, marketing, and human resources to third-party companies or consultants to manage aspects of the practice. The primary difference between practices utilizing a DSO model and those that do not is that a DSO consolidates these administrative tasks to a single source while traditional practices may use a number of consultants (CPAs, HR management, payroll services, etc.) for these services. Practices supported by DSOs benefit from economies of scale present in a network. They have greater buying power, may negotiate less expensive laboratory fees, better leases, insurance contracts, etc. They can also retain revenue in-house by creating their own specialist networks, for example, rather than referring patients out of the practice.
Just like solo practitioners, dentists who partner with a DSO must maintain their own professional standards and take responsibility for their own clinical/ethical decisions, regardless of who handles the business activities. The dental laws in each state define what is clinical (i.e., matters of patient care reserved to dentists licensed in that state and regulated by its dental board) and nonclinical (i.e., operational tasks that can be performed by anyone). DSOs are able to provide only nonclinical services.