Survival Strategies for the Independent Dental Practice (Part 2)

February 8, 2016
Ed Rabinowitz

In part two of our series, we look at how dental practices can improve their bottom lines by focusing on value without cutting fees.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series. Read the first story here.

When your dental patient tells you that he or she can get braces from a corporate-model dental practice, it’s time to look in the mirror and do some soul searching regarding your own dental practice.

That’s just one of the many challenges Donna Galante, DDS, a practicing orthodontist with more than 30 years of experience, was faced with. What did she do?

“We decided we needed to get out of the braces market to some degree,” Galante explains, “because it’s a hard thing sometimes for the consumer to be educated about the difference between braces here or braces there.”

In other words, you have to be willing to think outside the box and make some changes if your dental practice is going to compete and survive. And Galante discusses those strategies in Part 2 of this series.

Find Your Niche

The year was 2007, and Galante, looking to differentiate herself from others in the competitive braces marketplace, integrated Invisalign into her orthodontic practice. These removable, clear braces have exploded over the last five years, but Galante benefited because she was there first.

“The biggest area that Invisalign has targeted is the adult population,” Galante says. “And we went after that adult population with a vengeance, positioning ourselves as the Invisalign adult orthodontic specialist.”

Fast-forward to today after so many others have jumped on the bandwagon and Galante’s practice is still ahead of the curve because they were the first ones in and were able to build a reputation. People would say, “If you want Invisalign, you have to see these guys, because they really have it down.” That reputation is priceless.

“And because of that we’ve been able to hold fees to a much higher level and standard than anybody else in our environment,” Galante says. “Finding a niche and getting really good at that, and focusing all your collateral marketing materials in whatever you’ve decided to niche yourself as, will keep you somewhat isolated from some of the people who are offering everything with the cafeteria.”

Value, Not Low Prices

Linked to finding a niche is offering your patients value. Galante says it has been a cornerstone of her practice.

“I hate to have patients come walking in and I feel like I’m at a used car lot as they’re trying to negotiate with me on fees,” Galante says. “We kind of stopped playing that game a long time ago. And now we offer value. We add value.”

Galante’s practice added value by offering accelerated orthodontics—new technology that cuts patient time wearing braces in half. And the practice offers extra sets of retainers for free—a savings to patients of $500 or more.

“I encourage any clients I work with not to think discount,” she says. “Think what can you add of extra value that the patient would have to pay for down the road but that you can provide either for free or maybe at a major discount. And you still keep your dental fees, your orthodontic fees. You’re not trying to compete with the corporate office down the streets that’s doing a crown for $99.”

Build Alliances

Galante says that corporate dental practices benefit from group buying incentives pay about a quarter of what a private practice pays for braces. And Galante knows, because she worked in one.

“They’re saving 80% on the cost of supplies,” she adds. “That makes a big difference.”

But now there are buying groups that dentists can join to obtain similar discounts to those received by corporate practices.

“I’m seeing it in the general dental world rather than the ortho world right now,” she explains. “But that’s going to expand.”

It’s part of why Galante believes that the independent dentist is going to survive. But she also believes the spirit and desire to own a private practice is strong.

“Most dentists, if you would sit down in a room and took a poll, and let’s say 50% of them might be fresh out of school, and another 50% were out of school maybe 10 years or less, I would bet that the majority of the dentists in the room, maybe 80% of them, would want to have their own private practice at the end of the day.”

That’s why Galante shares many of her strategies in her book, “It’s All About Millimeters: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Impact in Your Business and Life.”

“In dentistry we measure everything in millimeters,” Galante says. “It’s a small measurement, but it’s huge in our industry. So conversely, take a small millimeter approach to solving whatever issues you’re having in your office. And if [the issues] aren’t small, then build upon them, and by doing that it’s achievable.”