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Meaning of DSO and is it right for you?

meaning of dso

Running a dental practice is tough business. Not only do you have to deal with the standard business responsibilities required in any industry, but being in the healthcare industry means you have a multitude of other things to deal with. What started as a well-meaning dentist trying to provide quality care to the community quickly devolves into a cascade of business and regulatory tasks that can overwhelm an already busy business owner.

To make life easier, many dental practice owners turn to DSOs. But what is the meaning of DSO? Many of us have heard the acronym thrown around but don’t know exactly what a DSO does. Let’s look at what a DSO is, the meaning of DSO partnership for your practice, and whether or not you need one at all.

What does DSO mean?

We’ve gotten in the habit of using acronyms so much in our personal and professional lives that sometimes they get convoluted. The DSO meaning in dentistry is a dental service organization. DSOs are gaining in popularity nationwide, and the only real way to understand if a DSO partnership is right for your organization is to understand what a DSO is and what it does.

What is a dental service organization?

A Dental Service Organization, also known as a Dental Support Organization within the industry, is simply a third party organization that provides support to independent dental practices. 

This support may entail anything from marketing to compliance and everything in between. Partnering with a DSO is kind of like running a franchise. They provide clinical and business support in exchange for a percentage of your profits. This comes with some upsides, as well as some downsides.

The meaning of DSO partnership in the dental industry

Any time a significant portion of an industry adopts a new way of doing business, there will be ripple effects across that industry. The DSO business model hasn’t taken the industry by storm, but it’s continually growing, and nearly 8% of practicing dentists are currently partnered with a DSO. Let’s look at some of the reasons they choose to partner.

Support for operations

A DSO usually has a dedicated staff that takes care of your business operations. You can likely run your practice with fewer employees and be sure things are getting done, even if you aren’t doing them or even seeing them. Outsourcing some of the tedious work of billing and dealing with insurance companies can take a load off your plate, but that convenience comes with a cost. Be ready to fork over some equity in your company.

Professional support and training

Pairing with a DSO can connect you with colleagues around the country and allow you to collaborate with them in different ways. There’s likely a long list of companies in DSO partnership that you could work with, and you’ll see some benefit in networking with them. We can always be working on our craft, and getting training from others in the field can really deliver results.

A DSO can keep you current

Another benefit of the DSO is that it can help keep you up to date with the latest technology and make sure you’re getting a fair price and proper training to effectively implement it. It can be a more efficient way to vet and implement new technology than casually browsing by yourself.

There may be financial incentives

Some DSOs will provide signing bonuses and can work out deals with insurance companies, so you get paid more for what you do. That said, DSOs don’t do their work for free. They will often take a certain percentage of your business for performing their services, or even buy your practice where you simply become an employee. The more you get paid, the more goes back to the DSO.

Why are DSOs gaining in popularity?

The majority of small businesses are started by people who practice the trade. Dental offices are no exception. Most dental practices are started by dentists rather than entrepreneurs. Any time a business is started by someone who practices the trade, an incredibly common inclination is for that person to feel the need to be hands-on in all aspects of the trade. They want to make sure everything is done right. Forcing yourself to take on all aspects of the business often means things get neglected, and the stress can lead to burnout.

A DSO is an option for someone who is willing to give up control and let the business be run by someone else and is also willing to give up a decent percentage of equity to do so. The DSO is a great option for someone who wants to be a dentist rather than an entrepreneur. They will handle the business portion for you, but even the best possible DSO will want a significant return for their services.

There’s nothing saying a dentist can’t become a successful entrepreneur. Many simply need a slight shift in focus and perception to see themselves as entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in growing your practice with yourself at the helm, you’re better off finding a trusted partner and/or consultant who can help develop the skills to efficiently run the business yourself.

Alternatives to the DSO model

Even though a growing portion of dental practices are adopting the DSO model, the vast majority of dental practices still run their own businesses. If they can be successful on their own, so can you. You just need to find the services and resources that work best for you and your practice.

A dental service organization business plan isn’t some perfect set of protocols that you couldn’t come up with yourself. It’s already done for you, and you can implement them immediately, without thinking much about it. If you are willing to sit down and design a plan yourself, you can reap many of the same benefits without giving up any piece of your practice.

Automate as many processes as possible

One of the things that make the responsibilities of running a dental practice stressful is the long list of tedious, day-to-day things that fill your plate with trivial tasks. Things like checking email and scheduling appointments are important parts of running a business, but that doesn’t mean they need to be completed by someone in-house. Automating as many of those tasks as you can will give you the extra time you need to focus on more pressing issues, like patient care.

Design systems with checklists

The majority of those pressing tasks don’t actually require the business owner or a dentist to complete. By setting up systems with checklists to simplify important tasks, you can ensure they get done correctly and can be done by nearly anyone in the organization. When you are able to design your own systems, the meaning of DSO partnership loses a little luster.

Read the trades

Dealing with technology and business management systems can feel daunting if you don’t know the difference between one piece of software and another. Luckily, you don’t need to know everything to make an informed decision. Reading trade magazines and websites can give you insight from professionals working in the industry and make your decision making process a lot less painful.

Find a solid support community

Reading is great, but asking questions of a support community is even better. Find yourself a solid support community, and you can ask specific questions, bounce ideas off one another, and even network with your peers. By supporting our peers, we not only pass on the knowledge we’ve gained over the years, but can also hone our skills and learn important lessons about our businesses that may otherwise take years. Don’t underestimate the power of a great support community.

Is partnering with a DSO right for you?

There are many cons and pros of DSO partnership, and the only real way to determine if it’s right for you is to take an honest inventory of what you see the future of your business looking like. Some of the tradeoffs can feel like a godsend, while others may leave you feeling like you’re losing control of your baby.

If you have the right systems and processes in place in addition to a support community, you can probably do a great job of managing your business yourself. If the thought of all that sounds like too much for you, the DSO dental model may be a good fit.

The meaning of DSO partnership to your practice

Maybe you came to this page asking, “what does DSO stand for” or “what is the meaning of DSO”? The important thing is that you are seeking the knowledge to run your practice more efficiently, and that’s the mindset that will get you through the very real stress that comes with operating your dental practice.

The real meaning of DSO partnership to an independent practice relies heavily upon your long term goals. Do you want to focus on providing quality dental care to your community, or do you want to focus specifically on performing dentistry?

If you want to focus on honing your skills while someone else runs your business for you, a DSO may be a good fit. On the other hand, if you’re interested in growing and developing your business in a way that fits your vision, gaining the skills is a better fit.