By D. Kellus Pruitt DDS
Like far too many neighborhood primary care physicians who can no longer make a profit on their own, managed care is having its way with dentists as well.
Unfortunately, our patients remain clueless about downsides to discounted care sold by huge, insensitive corporations manned by executives who cannot be held accountable for their favorite providers’ level of care.
Since as a dentist I am somewhat transparent anyway, I would like to share some feelings with friends about an awkward subject that is on the minds of more dentists than one might expect, yet (almost) none feel comfortable revealing it: Regardless of the public’s perception of dentists’ wealth for the last few decades, it does not look like the anticipated economic recovery is likely to include the small dental practice down the street.
Not unlike Schadenfreude, I am certain at least some of dentistry’s disappointed customers may find this news addictingly pleasing to savor – up until one needs a dentist for a problem that cannot be handled safely by their designated dental therapist preferred by insurance MBAs.
I watch the dental news closer than most dentists, and sadly, my studied predictions have always proven to be very accurate, even if unpopular. Today I confidently predict that the profitability most dentists enjoyed for decades will not return for years – perhaps a decade or more.
On the other hand, as it becomes increasingly difficult to find dentists who allow time for gentle injections, patients should expect to pay them better than most. When an imbalance in the free market becomes unsustainable by artificial means such as managed care’s pay-for-performance algorithms, this is the way competition regulates quality in a natural way.
Personally, I’ve dealt with the downturn by working part time as an associate of another practice to make ends meet, and I feel fortunate to have found such a wonderful opportunity with a wonderful, patient-centered team. Marci, my wife, seems to be happier as well.
Sorry if today’s news was a bummer, Doc. Maybe it is time others spoke up as well. Our leaders’ obvious lack of interaction on the internet exposes a tremendous vacuum, and they are incapable of rescuing the profession with silence… and neither will rushed therapists in huge dental clinics.
It’s up to you and me, Doctor. Come on out. The air is fine.
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