Building a different business model

Bilal El-Dhuwaib, Clinical Lead and Regional Clinical Director at Dental Partners, discusses why clinical freedom shouldn’t be compromised in a corporate model

As dentists working in independent practice approach retirement, they face the challenge of having to re-evaluate their business model and decide what next steps should be taken in terms of selling the practice they have worked so hard to build over the years. From the dental team’s perspective, this can cause an aura of uncertainty and is a scenario I am all too familiar with. I have witnessed first-hand the decisions and deliberations made by a successful husband and wife team, who were approaching retirement and took the decision to sell their practice to a dental corporate.

Having worked as part of their independent dental practice in Dinnington, South Yorkshire since 2006, the news that they were planning to sell to a dental corporate came as a shock. At the time I remember being apprehensive about the change of ownership and feared that becoming part of a corporate was going to impede on my own clinical freedom, with the danger of pushing our team into working in ways that could compromise our service to patients.

Fortunately, my concerns were very short-lived. Within days of the sale, the CEO of our new owners Dental Partners, came to visit the practice, calming everyone’s fears by explaining the intention to build a very different business model to other dental corporates. We were assured of complete clinical freedom, our working practices would remain unaltered, with no change to the personnel and that together we would make the practice a place where everyone wanted to work.

Building a partnership

Clinical freedom is a contentious issue in corporate dentistry, and part of the problem is in decision-making. Often there is a chain of command meaning that even a simple request to order a new material takes time and effort to action. As a clinician, I know my patients and what will work best for them, but if my options were to be limited in any way it would make life very difficult.

In today’s dentistry the emphasis needs to be on partnership. As clinicians we are in partnership with our patients working towards optimal oral health. If patients are involved in the decision-making and fully informed of their options, they are more likely to give their consent. From the administrative perspective, the partnership between clinician and business is also very important. Being able to talk and work together with those on the management team to help plan the business’ direction is essential to secure success.

I firmly believe it’s about getting the balance right. If a practice is managerially-led rather than clinically-led this can create problems, as clinicians are unable to make independent decisions. Equally, a clinically-led practice can lead to issues with the business itself. The key is to build a balanced partnership with the support of a good team to be able to move forward. This kind of clinical-operational partnership is truly represented in Dental Partners’ ethos.

Putting a face to the name

Another common criticism of corporate dentistry is a perceived lack of communication between the practice and a remote head office with seemingly little or no understanding of the local community. As Regional Clinical Director of Dental Partners I consider it my duty to visit all of our local practices on a regular basis. This is not just to identify problems, although that’s extremely important, it’s about building up a relationship to make everyone feel like they are part of a team, giving them the freedom to work in the way they want with the best equipment and materials to help build a prosperous practice. I am also working towards building up a regional study club for all our teams in South Yorkshire.

Moving forward

Before the change of ownership at our practice we were always proud of our ability to deliver an excellent level of dental care to our patients, but now we are able to improve our services even further, which is the exact opposite of what I expected from being part of a corporate. I feared stringent cost control and a crackdown on the flexibility to choose the most appropriate treatment options. Instead, I am faced with a scenario in which clinicians are trusted to select the most appropriate equipment, materials and laboratories to work with and a managerial team that only steps in to ensure we have a supportive framework, training and all the essentials to get the job done well. Already, in a short space of time it has become apparent that CEO Neil Lloyd is seeking to build upon his vision of Dental Partners being the ‘best place to work’.

As a clinician, delivering the best possible care for patients is always the priority, and you can’t do that if you have one hand tied behind your back. Corporate dentistry has come in for a lot of criticism over the years for restricting clinical freedom, but as the business model of UK dentistry has changed so corporate dentistry is evolving along with it.

This change is being spearheaded by Dental Partners, which is working to deliver a safe, ethical and supportive workplace with a strong emphasis on clinical freedom and personal development, providing a refreshing and alternative model for corporate dentistry.

Bilal El-Dhuwaib qualified in 2003. He has been working at Dinnington Dental Practice since 2006. During his time at the practice, he has achieved several postgraduate degrees including a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Master’s degree in restorative dentistry. Bilal’s passion is education. He has been involved in teaching undergraduate dental students since 2012 and dental foundation training for several years. Bilal is an award-winning dentist who won the regional Best Young Dentist Award, and the Highly Commended Overall Best Young Dentist UK Award in 2012 and is the co-founder and deputy chairman of a local community group involved in working with migrants and refugees.

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