There is a rather unsettling trend taking place in the dental profession, commonly referred to as the ‘corporatization’ of dental care. This trend has been evident for many years in the United States, and is more recently gaining some traction in Canada.
Simply put, corporate ownership means that the dentist who is providing the dental care is not the owner of the dental practice, but rather an employee of a business entity that owns multiple practices.
From a purely economic standpoint, there are some potential advantages to corporate ownership in dentistry. For example, these businesses benefit from bulk purchasing power for dental equipment and supplies, which should translate into lower dental fees for patients. Corporately owned dental offices are often located in malls or other retail locations that offer extended hours.
But what are the potential pitfalls with corporation-run dental care? If we look again to US experience over the last 10 years, we see many examples of the dangers of ‘profit-driven’ health care. At the risk of generalization, many corporate-owned practices in the US have financial targets for their employees to meet, and this increases the likelihood that the integrity of the dentist will be challenged. There are many published examples of dentists in the US being fired by their employer for not meeting financial targets.
In my own personal experience, I have seen a noticeable increase in the number of new patients to my practice who have decided to change dentists because they dislike seeing a different dentist every time they visit their dental office. This issue of continuity of care is a very important one, particularly for dental patients who are apprehensive about dental treatment, and who need to develop a sense of trust and confidence in their dentist.
In spite of this recent trend, there is not a sense of doom and gloom in the dental community. Conversely, there is a feeling among traditional private-practice dentists that there will always be patients who place value in a long-term relationship with their dentist and dental office. We also benefit in Ontario from a strong regulatory body that exists to protect the best interests of dental patients.
There may be a place for corporations in the dental marketplace, but there will always be a place for individually owned dental practices as well.