At the Heart of Dentistry

Heartland Dental’s model frees dentists to be dentists

The hours didn’t add up. They simply couldn’t. Dr. Rick Workman averaged 50 hours a week practicing chair side and another 25-30 working on the business side. Clinical, management, administrative, and not even counting the time devoted to continuing education – there just weren’t enough hours in the day or week to create a sustainable model of success and growth as an individual dentist and maintain the right work/family balance. “As William H. Johnsen once said, ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me.’ I knew if I was experiencing these challenges, other dentists were too. I needed to find a solution,” said Dr. Workman.

Seeking a system of support, he set out to create one that would relieve the management burdens for affiliated dentists by offering an array of non-clinical administrative support services such as human resources, accounting, supply and equipment procurement, marketing and customer support. This aspiration became known as Heartland Dental, and the concept became what we know today as a DSO (dental support organization). Since its inception in 1997, Heartland Dental has grown to 529 affiliated dental offices located in 26 states. The organization currently supports over 820 affiliated dentists and over 6,000 team members and is based in Effingham, Ill.

The tools to advance
Heartland Dental provides affiliated offices with “the necessary tools to advance their skills – both clinical and leadership,” says Dr. Workman. “These are tools they would not likely receive anywhere else. Affiliated doctors and team members learn successful practice management skills and how to become a better leader. The most successful dentists are able to balance clinical skills with effective interpersonal communication skills that motivate and inspire their teams. Also, Heartland Dental’s mentorship and networking opportunities are invaluable. For younger doctors, developing a mosaic of communication with their peers allows them to continually learn and collaborate. Having a seasoned mentor who has grown familiar with the business of dentistry and advanced patient care can be very helpful to a young dental professional. Having the ability to email pictures of pathology or share thoughts and ideas in real time with hundreds of other doctors who have a common interest is unparalleled. What most in our industry don’t realize is that the highly experienced dentist’s passion for dentistry is revitalized when the administrative burden of non-clinical functions are removed.”

Heartland Dental offers continuing education that’s among the best in the nation, and is cited as one of the main reasons doctors decide to affiliate. The courses include:

  • Clinical instruction from top clinicians and industry leaders
  • Doctor Leadership
  • Partnering for Excellence
  • Effective Communication
  • Business of Dentistry
  • Bell Leadership

These courses are offered regionally within the Heartland Dental network as well as at The Institute at Heartland Dental, located in the Home Office. Affiliated doctors and team members have access to a network of successful, experienced dental professionals and preferred vendor relationships which increases the predictability of understanding and implementing new skills and techniques.

“By removing the burdens of non-clinical responsibilities, the dentist can spend their time on becoming a better dentist and providing better care and experiences for their patients,” says Dr. Workman. “They didn’t graduate from dental school to be accountants, marketing gurus or HR specialists. Our support helps them focus their time on patient care and development as clinicians and leaders.

Heartland Dental’s vision isn’t restricted to one type of doctor either. We have effective solutions for doctors at all career stations. For new doctors, we offer the chance to start their careers out on the right foot, providing excellent personal and professional growth opportunities. For doctors looking for work-life balance, we offer the support to help them achieve that. For doctors looking for the right exit strategy, we offer the means for them to control their career on their terms.”

A new reality
According to Dr. Workman, Heartland Dental has maintained growth and success because of a combination of the inherent need for dental care, as well as meeting the real world needs, desires, and aspirations of dentists in a rapidly changing professional marketplace.
“Dentistry is still valued in our population and it will always be valued,” he says. “Dental disease seldom cures itself, and almost always costs more to fix the further into the disease process one goes. That is why lifetime care, defined as preventive care and definitive treatment delivered early in the disease process, will always be important and saves people money in the long-run.”

Dr. Workman says the nation’s economic challenges we’ve experienced have established a new reality. “Many dentists are unable to sell or share their offices with associate dentists. Young dentists often with $250,000 or more in student loans can’t finance a private practice or new startup on their own,” he says. “This has led to an explosion in the number of quality dentists searching for employment opportunities with DSO-supported practices.”

Workman believes DSOs are responding to the realities of today’s dental marketplace. “Today, many new dentists don’t care to own their own practice. They don’t view the emotional, financial and time burdens as worthy of their professional, personal destiny. We also see a large and growing percentage of successful solo practitioners nearing the end of their careers looking for new options and opportunities to the old school status quo of years past. Over the next 20 years, the number of dentists practicing at DSO-supported offices will likely double or triple.”

A presence in the community
Community outreach is a big part of each local office. Each year, many affiliated offices hold Free Dentistry Day events in their communities, providing free dental services to those in need. In 2012, over 3,500 patients were helped and over $1.3 million in value of dentistry was donated. Through 2013, affiliated offices were on pace to help over 5,000 patients and donate over $2 million in value of dentistry. Many Heartland Dental affiliated doctors and teams also participate in international humanitarian events in Columbia, Haiti, Honduras and other countries.

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