Learning by Numbers

Great Expressions places a premium on sharing knowledge throughout its 215 practices

Can power be judged by numbers? Perhaps, if you’re talking about purchasing power or marketing clout.

But for Great Expressions Dental Centers, the key to success could more accurately be characterized as “learning by numbers.”

“Our multispecialty model gives us tremendous opportunity to share best practice modalities from one office to another,” says Robert Brody, DMD, chief clinical officer. “We can do that individually or in a group setting. This gives everybody an opportunity to learn and understand what’s happening. As a group, we provide more avenues – easy avenues – for our doctors to learn.”

Great Expressions is a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based dental services organization comprising 215 practices in nine states. Initially a single practice in Dearborn, Mich., founded in 1975, Great Expressions has grown primarily through affiliation ever since. In fact, the company opened its 50th location in 2002, and its 200th in 2012.

“We provide every service that the doctor would need,” says CEO Richard Beckman. “We help them negotiate fees; and bill, collect, send claims – everything they need inside a dental office. And we can offer a career path for doctors. They start out as an associate, and can move into senior roles, such as clinical director. We want as many of our dentists as possible to be investors in the management company.

“We try to take the noise out of our dentists’ lives and let them concentrate on delivering great patient care.”

Says Brody, “We take away all the business aspects of running a practice from our dentists, if that’s what they want. They don’t have to worry about the next payroll, or about putting an ad in the paper for a new staff member, and then training [him or her].” Great Expressions dentists can concentrate on what they want to do – provide high-quality dental care, he says. “And they have the resources of 215 offices to work with, as well as the ability to pursue CE [Continued Education] provided by Great Expressions, so they can enhance their skills.”

National Doctor Panel
Great Expressions dentists maintain clinical control over treatment, but they are expected to follow a standard of care established by the National Doctor Panel. The eight-person panel – comprising dentists, orthodontists and other specialists – oversees and trains the DSO’s dental professionals, and also assists with recruiting and hiring.

“As healthcare professionals and as dentists, we do provide a pathway to health function and aesthetics,” says Brody, who owned a 36-office practice in Florida prior to affiliating with Great Expressions. “We don’t reinvent pathways that already exist, but we do adopt existing pathways from other organizations.” For example, Great Expressions has incorporated recommendations from the American Academy of Periodontology concerning the treatment of gum disease.

In addition, the Panel has arrived at some standards for sequencing of treatment. “I don’t know if you would call that a pathway, but it is an appropriate sequence for treatment that we teach all our doctors,” he says.

The Panel is assisted by a network of regional clinical directors. Brody himself was a clinical director in Florida prior to becoming chief clinical officer two years ago. The clinical directors serve as resources to doctors by disseminating best practices. “Our doctors welcome their visits,” says Brody, speaking of the clinical directors. “Everybody likes to share ideas and talk about treatment plans. And if I see something in an office that is really working well, I share it with everyone else, and I give them credit.”

For example, Brody observed one Great Expressions dentist conducting morning staff meetings and afternoon meetings with the office manager, in an attempt to get everyone on the team using the same vocabulary with patients. “It earns the trust of the patient, and we want patients for life,” he says. It’s a practice he shared with other practices.

The National Doctor Panel has put together a quality assessment program, which is designed to help doctors understand the importance of documentation, diagnosis and treatment planning, he continues. Through that program and frequent in-office visits, Great Expressions has a better idea of what CE is needed. Examples include training on periodontal therapy and clear aligners, sponsored by industry partners.

The National Doctor Panel plays a role in product and equipment selection as well. “They review products, then try to select those that they believe are best suited to our practices,” says Beckman. Doctors can go off formulary, but as much as 85 to 90 percent of products and supplies are purchased from the standard formulary, he says.

Great Expressions has a prime vendor relationship with Henry Schein, and a secondary relationship with Benco Dental. Sales reps who want to introduce new products to Great Expressions dentists are asked to take up their request with the National Doctor Panel, not individual Great Expressions offices.

Dentists for life
Just as Great Expressions wants patients for life, so too does it want dentists for life. And the DSO believes it can make a strong case for their doctors to stay.

“The independent solo dentist spends much more time on the business aspect of his or her practice than a Great Expressions dentist does,” says Beckman. But that independent dentist will spend less time chairside. “Our dentists may spend zero time on administrative [duties], but more time treating patients.” Consequently, Great Expressions dentists enjoy doing what they do best – taking care of patients – and, at the end of the day, leave the office without a lot of paperwork, he says. In addition, because the DSO actively works with insurers, Great Expressions doctors enjoy a consistent flow of new patients, he adds. “Doctors like that.”

Doctors who want management or administrative responsibilities can embark on a different career path, perhaps by becoming a partner in the corporation, a clinical director, or quality control specialist. “We have all sorts of different paths for the dentist who doesn’t want to spend all their time chairside,” says Beckman.

Says Brody, Great Expressions offers great advancement and learning opportunities for the young dentist. He or she might spend a year or two as an associate, and then perhaps take responsibility for a practice of their own. They gain management and leadership skills and then, if they want, move into a larger practice.

The DSO offers flexibility for dentists – including the growing ranks of female dentists, who want to balance work and family demands, adds Beckman. Dentists who want to limit their hours are accommodated.

Great Expressions is an attractive option for recent graduates saddled with debt, because they begin practice with an immediate revenue stream, says Beckman. “There’s a career path here. They can spend their entire career here, if they want, or they can spend a couple of years with us, then open their own practice. But we would prefer they didn’t do that.”

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