Myths, Rumors, and Bald Faced Lies- Truths Revealed about the DSO Industry
By: Michael W. Davis, DDS
There exists a great deal of misinformation, as well as intentional misrepresentations, within the dental service organization (DSO) industry. Much, if not most of this of this, is fostered by the DSO industry itself.
Historically in healthcare, dentists were held to ethical and legal standards within the doctor/patient relationship (legal contract) always placing their patient’s interest, above all other interests. Court rulings have determined that because of a doctor’s expert knowledge, which is not easily accessible to the general public, the patient is at a distinct disadvantage within this contract agreement. Obviously, the delivery of healthcare services is a very different matter, than the buying and selling of widgets.
A corporate third party, the DSO, may enter into this contract agreement (doctor/patient relationship). This is usually without the knowledge or consent of the patient. Such an action may invalidate as unlawful, the doctor/patient relationship. (Please reference Fifth Circuit Ruling: 07-30430.) DSOs, which utilize bonus systems and production quotas for professional providers, are engaging in the unlicensed and unlawful practice of dentistry. Such corporate violators are subject to the same regulatory sanctions and disciplinary actions, as individual violators. Unfortunately, too few government regulators have advanced past their current ineptitude and corruption. This must change.
“At XYZ Dental, we allow you to focus on what you do best; provide excellent dental care for patients. We take care of all the rest.” is a common corporate dentist-recruiting message. Even the provider contracts include a proviso waiver that only licensed dentists provide dental care. Unfortunately, contract verbiage is far from the reality.
Unlicensed corporate managers, not doctors, very often make clinical decisions effecting direct patient care. This may include the quantity and quality of dental supplies for a dental clinic. It may include a very limited selection of utilization of dental laboratories, many of which are undisclosed offshore dental lab sweatshops. Unlicensed corporate clinic managers, who are not under any doctor’s supervision, may be utilizing arm-twisting sales techniques, to get patients to sign on for financing of unnecessary dental care. Similar arm-twisting may be used on doctors and hygienists, to increase clinic profits, by selling unneeded dental treatments to their patients.
Hygienists, who lawfully must be working under the direction and supervision of a duly licensed doctor, are today working for whomever writes their paycheck. Periodontal probing measurements are invented, to generate additional cases of unnecessary scaling and root planing (deep cleaning). Sulcular antibiotic therapy is sold to patients, even before assessment of results, to initial therapy of scaling and root planing. Adult cleaning visits are often restricted to 20-30 minutes, which nearly always leaves excessive disease-causing agents. In fact, often unlicensed dental assistants are providing hygiene services.
Generation of corporate profits trumps the interests of patients. Any dental professional employee who dares question the corporate model will soon be out the door. After all, a corporation’s first fiduciary responsibility is to generate maximal returns for shareholders. The interests of patients never enter the picture.
Upper management in the DSO industry will often argue, that numbers of non-corporate doctors are engaging in the same or similar patient abuses, within their smaller businesses. And, this justifies their grand scale abuses, how? It’s the old lame failed argument, of justifying bad behavior, with other examples of bad behavior. Reality: dental regulatory boards have reported a far greater percentage of statute violations originating from corporate dentistry, than from smaller doctor-controlled practices.
Another DSO fallacy often relates to doctor financial compensation. Verbally, their management and doctor-recruiters advise dentists of compensation, clearly based on a percentage of the doctor’s clinical production and/or hourly wage. Yet, the complex legalese of the employment contract, seemingly tells another story. These contracts are often so complicated, only a law firm concurrently expert in business law, contract law, and finance could hope to decipher the maze of legal verbiage.
Fortunately, any American Dental Association (ADA) member can have these contracts reviewed, as a benefit of membership. Few recent grads take advantage, as they not only lack finances to hire an appropriate attorney for contract review, but also are often not ADA members.