Knowing Your Dentist Can Save You Money

When you visit your dentist, who’s making the decisions about your care? Sitting in an isolated corporate center, national dental chain executives over-diagnose and financially fleece unsuspecting patients, according to New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.

On June 18, 2015, the Schneiderman published a press release explaining the $450,000 settlement reached with a private equity owned, dental management company (DSO). In the settlement, the DSO was ordered to stop “making decisions about patient care in New York clinics.” With similar settlements in other states, the DSO has paid over $2 Million dollars in fines.

The settlement requires the DSO, with $635 Million in annual revenues, to “not dictate the care provided by dentists and hygienists at dental practices, not split patients’ fees with the clinics, which is illegal in New York, and make clear to consumers that the company is not a provider of dental services.”

Many dental offices in the U.S. are owned and managed by DSOs. One of the problems that can arise with these corporate owned practices is that decisions about patient care are made off site by someone other than the dentist who is examining you. And often, these decisions are made to maximize profit rather than based on what is best for the patient.

“Medical and dental decisions should be made by licensed providers using their best clinical judgment, and should not be influenced by management companies’ shared interest in potential profits,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “By enforcing New York’s laws banning the corporate practice of medicine and fee-splitting between medical practitioners and non-licensed individuals and entities, today’s agreement ensures that New Yorkers receive quality dental care.”

This company has also been fined by Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and in October, 2015, Indiana, for similar or other alleged violations.

According to the press release, the complaints filed by several hundred consumers were about specific dentist office locations of the DSO “regarding quality of care, billing practices, misleading advertising, upselling of dental services and products the consumers felt were unnecessary, and unclear or incomplete terms for the financing of dental care.” The attorney general’s investigation “revealed” that the DSO had developed “extensive control” over the offices it managed, including sharing profits. According to Attorney General Schneiderman, the DSO “routinely makes business decisions for the clinics that directly impacted patient care. Those practices included incentivizing and otherwise pressuring staff to increase sales of dental services and products…” including, hygienists being told “to sell more products and services to patients.”

The DSO refuted the allegations, but per the settlement, agreed to remain independent of each practice’s dental care decisions and fees, bank accounts, and financial decisions.

Dental management companies marketing to consumers have their own organization. Many, including the above, agree to a “code of ethics” as a condition of membership in the Association of Dental Services Organizations (ADSO).  The Attorney General’s allegations, if true, would be a violation of ADSO membership ethics. Does that mean all ADSO members’ ethical standards are suspect?

We don’t believe every DSO violates ethical standards. But it tells a cautionary tale that we need to be careful, because a well branded dental office might not always be the best place for quality dental care. Another question is do dental organizations have a responsibility to protect patients. For the members of OPT-In Dental Advantage, the answer is yes. We believe patients deserve as much protection as possible. Considering that the above company has been fined in multiple states and has faced large numbers of patient complaints, leaves us wondering how many dental organizations agree with us.

When looking for a good dental office, Find a dentist you can trust, one that will be there for your entire family today and for years to come. And, be sure to check out our Code of Ethics to help you judge your dental visit, because a great relationship provides peace of mind and lasting value.