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ADA launches pilot programs to provide bridge to practice ownership

Initiative to help new, established dentists in career transitions, business management

May 21, 2018

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Dr. Norbo
Dr. Norbo
In an effort to help new and established dentists during their most important transitions — such as finding associates or buying/selling a practice, the ADA Board of Trustees in April approved a pilot initiative to foster relationships between new dentists and current practice owners and provide a bridge to practice ownership.

The initiative involves building the technology and team to support these relationships. The first step includes creating an online platform that facilitates connections between new dentists seeking associateships or the possibility of purchasing a practice and established dentists who are looking for an associate or a buyer for their practice.

"If our assumptions are proven to be correct, this business venture will generate predictably successful matches or associateships between new dentists and established dentists, strengthen the independent practice model, improve access to care and provide business expertise for our members in all phases of their professional careers," said Dr. Kirk M. Norbo, ADA 16th District trustee and Business Model Project Governance Team chair.

The pilot was developed after field research found that the ADA can play a role in addressing needs in learning and connection.

The research uncovered a need in the marketplace for new dentists and established dentists who want to connect for both employment opportunities and mentorship but have had difficulty doing so. Research also found additional needs around learning skills related to basic business management, ownership, patient acquisition, purchasing and staff relationships.

"The existing dental marketplace has most of the services we think are valuable to our members but they are fragmented and require extensive time and effort by our members to locate," Dr. Norbo said. "The ultimate vision of this project is to provide a portfolio of services that will seamlessly transition a dental student from graduation to retirement."

The pilot will involve testing this online platform in two different markets with the initial release of a beta platform before the end of 2018.

Using the online platform, dentists will create a profile that captures what the dentist is seeking. For new dentists, this might be an associateship or the possibility of purchasing a practice. For an established dentist, this might be finding an associate or a future buyer for the practice.

The ADA would play a role similar to the one played by employment or practice brokers in the current market. Using an algorithm, the online service will match new dentists with established dentists by considering aspects such as philosophy of care, personality, location and desired practice characteristics.

"On the average, 70 percent of matches or associateships fail," Dr. Norbo said. "So as we design our profile surveys, the goal will be to develop a product that our members can trust to deliver overwhelmingly successful results."

Once a match is made, an "ADA mentor" will be assigned to help ensure both parties are comfortable with the arrangement and to help them manage their individual and mutual goals.

In addition, the ADA Board approved a pilot initiative to purchase up to two dental practices with an intention to sell the practices to new dentists who express interest after a target period of time.

This practice purchase pilot was developed after research found a surprising number of practices that are closing down simply because the owner dentist could not find a buyer for the practice. Many of these practices are located in rural areas or smaller cities. The ADA Board approved the pilot to assess feasibility of a program to place new dentists in practices on the market.

For both components of the pilot initiative, it will be imperative to identify the role of state and local dental societies will play to help make these services effective.

"If we can help our solo practitioners and small group practices sustain the independent practice model while delivering a revenue stream that will provide financial sustainability for the ADA in the foreseeable future, this project will be a home run," Dr. Norbo said.

Look for updates on the pilot initiative in future issues of ADA News.