The key to avoiding the most common mistakes related to bringing on dental associates is to properly plan for the transition and take measures to manage expectations. You might be looking forward to how it will impact you and your practice–handling fewer patients, offloading some administrative work, possibly enjoying the proceeds of a final sale eventually—but this is a major change that will not only impact you.  

Your new associate has their own expectations—about income, the practical day-to-day reality of dental work, and making the practice their own.  And don’t forget your staff—this decision will impact every aspect of your practice. That’s why there are few details too small to overlook.

Here are some of the most common pitfalls, and how you can avoid them.

  • The practice isn’t prepared for the associate.  Bringing in an associate requires planning, from setting up a workspace to preparing staff for the new addition.  If the logistics are not managed properly in advance, it’ll make it much harder on everyone (even your patients), and may cause regrets. Take the time to think through what it will take to organize your practice for the new associate and make sure the details are taken care of before they start.  Include your office staff in these plans and encourage their input.
  • The office staff views the new associate as a problem. Your office staff has been carefully selected and trained to work together.  Bringing in a new associate is a big change. Now your staff with have twice as many dentists to support, one of whom they’ve never worked with before.  This is a significant change to your office dynamic and culture. Talk through your plans with your office staff, encourage their feedback, listen closely to their concerns, and take these into consideration as you make your decisions.
  • The established dentist and staff assume the new associate will fit right in. No two dentists practice in the same way.  Your new associate will have their own personality and approach to dentistry. While your practice may be running smoothly, it will have to adjust to accommodate a new associate. And although change can be daunting, it is also an opportunity to get a fresh perspective and potentially improve your office culture, procedures, and overall practice as you can draw on the strengths of the associate.
  • The practice lacks a clear direction. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s more difficult to bring another along with you, and you may struggle to choose a clear path to follow. Think back to when you started your practice.  What was your vision? Have you achieved it? Consider how dental associates may help get you closer to that vision. Use those considerations to guide your decisions about who to bring on, as well as when and how to bring them on.
  • The associate feels they are not adequately compensated for their contribution. Nothing will make an associateship sour faster than someone feeling they are being taken advantage of.  Consider what the practice can bear to pay a new associate. Consult with your accountant about establishing a fair pay scale that won’t harm your practice while providing a motivating incentive to have a positive impact.  Have frank and open discussions with the new associate about the realities of the practice. And of course, the compensation package you agree on should be in writing and signed by both parties.
  • The associate has unrealistic financial expectations. When meeting with potential associates, ask about their expectations in the first year, second year, and so forth, to get a sense of whether they are prepared for the realities of practicing generally, as well as assessing their fit into your practice specifically. Consider these expectations along with the skills they bring to your practice; they could significantly impact the success of the overall business for years to come.
  • The owner dentist doesn’t deliver on a verbal agreement with the associate. If an owner dentist fails to adequately plan for the associate—either because they don’t have a good sense of what the practice can afford to pay, haven’t consulted with an accountant, or haven’t created a written agreement—the owner may not be able to follow through on the offer. The failure to deliver will create bad feelings on all sides and may cause the associate to leave the practice.
  • The associate wasn’t aware the managed care patients would be their responsibility. The role the associate will take on in the practice must be clearly discussed and understood before any agreements can be reached. Especially if the associate is inexperienced, they may not know the realities of beginning a dental career. If handling less lucrative or more mundane cases will be part of their responsibility, make sure this is understood up front.
  • The owner dentist changes their mind about the selling price. We’ve all heard about buyer’s remorse, but sellers can regret the deal also.  Too often, a price has been verbally agreed to when second thoughts creep in and threaten to spoil the deal. This can be avoid by a careful accounting of the value of the practice, such as through a third-party accounting firm.  DDSmatch Southwest has partnered with the dental accountants at Blue & Co. to perform this valuable service for our clients..  Be clear about the value of your practice and what is a fair market price before you talk about the sale price with any potential buyers.
  • Parties cannot come to an agreement on price and terms of buy‐in or sale.  Following on the last point, having an independent valuation of your practice will help both parties come to terms on what the practice is worth and what are fair terms for a buy-in or sale. The seller has a lot invested in the practice—it’s the culmination of a lifetime of work. And of course the buyer has an incentive to keep the buy-in terms or sale price low.  An objective evaluation of the worth of the practice can help bring the parties together.

DDSmatch Southwest Can Help You Avoid Potential Problems with Dental Associates

The recurring theme through all of these issues is the need to be thorough in your preparation for a new associate: know the value of your practice; think through your expectations and discuss them openly with your new associate, making sure you each agree on the terms in writing, and thoroughly prepare your office staff and office space.  When you understand some of these pitfalls on the front‐end, it can help your practice to avoid an unsuccessful associateship and regrets down the road.

In the end, it takes a team to make a successful associateship and transition. At DDSmatch Southwest, we partner with the dental accounting experts at Blue & Co. to provide you The Associate Intelligence Quotient (AIQ).™ This detailed report is based on the individual circumstances of your current practice and can give you a clear, unbiased look at whether dental associates are right for your practice.  Contact us today to get the expert answers you’ve been looking for.