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Tripartite makes membership valuable to large group practices

The ADA Council on Membership held a strategic discussion June 15 to enhance its understanding of the large group practice landscape.

The goals were to learn more about dentists who choose to practice in this model and begin to think about ways to create, deliver and promote member value to dentists in large group practice settings.

Image: Dr. Rosenthal
Dr. Rosenthal

But first things first. The demographics of membership are shifting, and the number of dentists in large group practices continues to grow. In order to appeal to dentists in this setting, the ADA will have to consider making changes to its membership benefits and database that tracks trends in membership.

“We have to look at large group practices through a completely different lens,” said Dr. Nancy Rosenthal, chair of the Council on Membership. “We don’t have ways to effectively track or reach out to dentists in large group practice, so we have to develop new ways to do that before we can begin to be relevant to these groups.”

Efforts to change that structure are in the early stages, said Dr. Rosenthal. The ADA Health Policy Resources Center is developing a Dental Office Database, expected to launch in 2013, that will track the number of dentists working in large group practice and provide more detailed information about the growth of these careers and what it means for the practice of dentistry.

“We are also working on re-evaluating what the member benefit package could be for members in large group practices,” Dr. Rosenthal added. “We find that many of these practices offer their own benefits to dentists, so not every value package would fit every dentist in large group practice.” 

During the council meeting, three constituent societies participated via conference call to share information about the ways they’ve worked, and in some cases, mended fences with, large group practices in their states. The Arizona Dental Association and Minnesota Dental Association have received funds from the ADA Membership Program for Growth for taking active measures to address the changing demographics of their membership by reaching out to dentists in large group practice.

When the Arizona State Association began recognizing the emerging market share of dentists in large group practice, it discovered a valuable benefit that organized dentistry offered and group practice didn’t: peer review, a program for settling disputes between patients and dentists or third-party payers and dentists.

“Arizona’s dental board has a reputation for aggressiveness, consistently ranking in the top five in the number of disciplinary actions in the country,” said Phyllis Yancy, AzDA assistant executive director. “Our rough calculation is that 60 percent of the complaints that are published as a result of disciplinary action at the dental board involve nonmembers, and some come from group practice settings. Peer review is a valuable benefit because even though it sometimes doesn’t result in resolution of the dispute, it can in a large number of instances without having to resort to the judicial system.”

AzDA began holding meetings with some of the larger group practices in the Phoenix area and began collaborating with them on the association’s upcoming Mission of Mercy program. “These events gave us an opening to encourage membership,” said Ms. Yancy. “We found that the practices did not encourage membership, nor did they discourage it. They have unique benefits of their own in their practices, and we’re not trying to compete with that. But peer review is a perfect example of a unique benefit that we can offer dentists.”

AzDA set a goal to focus on the top three large group practices to increase its market share for each group to 70 percent, and the association’s efforts have already begun to bear fruit. “With one of the larger groups in the area, we only need one or two more dentists to achieve that number,” said Ms. Yancy.  

Image: Dr. Eng
Dr. Eng
The Minnesota Dental Association also set out to increase the market share of dentists in large group practices to 70 percent in just one year.

“There are 380 dentists, 12 percent of all dentists in Minnesota, who are in large group practice, and only 55 percent were members of MDA,” said Dr. Laura Eng, chair of the MDA Subcommittee on Large Group Practice and a past member of the ADA Council on Membership.

MDA began by holding meetings with leaders from large group practices, attending one another’s annual meetings and issuing invitations to get involved in MDA activities. “We had a key message for leaders during these meetings,” said Dr. Eng. “We emphasized that we were going to listen and advocate for them.”

Over the course of a year, the market share of large group practice dentists grew to 66 percent. In an unexpected move, Park Dental agreed to pay MDA membership dues for all of its employees.

“Our challenge is to get [Park Dental] to continue to do that,” said Dr. Eng. “Large group practice dentists have told us they want to be part of making things happen, whether it’s participation on committees or coming to a Minnesota Mission of Mercy event. We have a lot of mutual respect, and we’ve exceeded our goal.” MDA’s market share of dentists in large group practice is now 75 percent.

The Wisconsin Dental Association, another participant in the conference call, believed it had to repair some relationships with dentists in large group practices. Interaction between organized dentistry and large group practice hasn’t always been smooth, said Lani Becker, WDA associate executive director.

“Some of these dentists felt they had not been treated well by the dental community,” said Ms. Becker. “Through our early discussions, we learned that they did not want to be treated differently from other dentists. Everyone wants to be looked at as a dentist; not as an employee or owner.”

WDA is now in the process of surveying dentists in the state’s three largest group practices to learn more about benefits they receive and whether they’ve participated in WDA or ADA events. WDA is also organizing receptions around the state to promote the value of organized dentistry.

“We are trying to get them to feel more welcome in the community of dentistry and we’re being inclusive to try and get rid of the negative feelings from previous years,” said Ms. Becker.