Since joining Delta Dental of Washington in mid-November one of my priorities has been meeting with Member dentists. My objectives for these meetings have been to listen to dentists about the state of the industry and their individual practices and to capture any feedback they have on working with Delta Dental. Thus far I’ve met with 19 dentists. I sincerely appreciate the dentists who made time in their busy schedules to share their unique perspectives. The meetings have been collaborative, productive and insightful.
Three things have become immediately apparent. First, dentists must wear many hats. You are clinicians, small business owners, accountants, people managers, psychologists, technologists, study club members, community leaders, and parents. On days when staffing is tight, you may temporarily become a hygienist or an assistant. Second, you are deeply committed to your patients, their dental care and their overall wellbeing. Third, I need to “brush up” on my dental terminology.
While each dentist had a unique perspective, there are several key themes that are starting to emerge from these visits.
- Dentists, particularly sole practitioners, feel economically squeezed. The costs of running a dental practice are increasing while reimbursement rates remain flat
- Some Delta Dental processing policies feel burdensome; the policies seem to target dentists that are trying to bend (or break) the rules rather than the majority of dentists who are doing the right thing for their patients
- There has not been a mechanism for meaningful two-way dialogue between dentists and DDWA over the last several years
- Relative to other insurance providers, Delta Dental is easy to work with, responsive and quick to pay claims
- Dentists would prefer that their relationship with Delta Dental be that of a valued partner
Through these meetings I was struck by the independence of dentists, each having their own practice philosophy and each at a different phase of their career. I met dentists who were less than 10 years in practice, focused on rapid growth and practice consolidation in order to gain scale while others had established their ideal practice size and were focused more on strong referral relationships, learning new procedures/technology and managing costs. I spoke to several dentists close to retirement who are working to maximize their practice value and preparing for their transition.
The Board, my staff and dentists ask me how many visits I plan to make. Frankly, I’m not sure. I am committed to as many as it takes for our dentist partners to feel heard and for me to adequately understand the challenges of the dental community and identify our opportunities. I come away from each meeting with member dentists optimistic that we have more in common than different, with improving oral health in Washington at the top of our shared list.
As a result of these meetings, I am working with my leadership team to develop a broad engagement plan that will provide opportunities for us to work together. This includes me personally meeting with study clubs, conducting focus groups, writing to you through blog posts, more frequent meetings with membership, and a commitment to hold a 2019 annual meeting. More initiatives will be identified and shared as I learn more and gain conviction on the path ahead.
I look forward to meeting more of you in 2019. Together, we can improve oral health in Washington whether it be through administering dental benefit plans or providing direct care to patients. If you have questions or suggestions for me, please add them to our 'Ask Mark' question log. I review these questions routinely and will answer them through blog posts and meetings throughout the year.
P.S. If you haven't already seen it, I did an interview with Diane Oakes in December to share my background and goals for the next few months.