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Should You Hire an Associate?

The reasons for adding a dental practice associate should be clearly defined prior to bringing one to your office and should provide clear benefits to you and your practice. Below are some of the questions you should ask before determining if you are ready to hire an Associate…

Do you have a healthy single-doctor practice?

To determine the viability of an associate for your office, you will first need to determine the number of active patients in your practice. Go to your patient files and count the number of patients who regularly have come to the office over the last 18 months. Generally, a healthy single doctor general practice will have 1,500 to 1,800 active patients. Practices that specialize in larger cases will have less, probably 1,200 to 1,500 active patients.

Additionally, we usually find that practices with gross production of less than about $750,000 will not produce enough net income for all the producers (doctors). Therefore, the senior doctor will be experiencing a loss of net income for the period of time it takes to build the practice to support more doctors for this important dental practice transition.

Do you have enough patients of record to support a second doctor’s production?

Next count the number of inactive patients, those that have not been in the office in the last 18 months. You will need to have somewhere in the range of 200-250 patients on the inactive list per day of planned associate employment to keep that associate busy. For example, for an associate working two days per week, you should look for between 400 and 500 inactive patients.

If you can identify 500 to 1,000 patients who can be reactivated, in addition to your normal schedule, you might be able to hire an associate for 2 to 5 days per week. With this portion of your diligence, we emphasize that you are looking for patients who are not regularly seen in your practice now. If you include patients that you are seeing, you are only cannibalizing your own production.

Do you have control over your staff expenses and can you afford to add more?

Associates are generally paid 30% to 40% of their collections, and many are now demanding salary guarantees. Beyond what you are investing in them, for their services, you must be able to further support them with staff. You must ask yourself if you are paying staff that will be available to accommodate the new associate. If you are not, consider that the highest single expense of any office is staff cost.

Hiring another assistant or more administrative staff will result in increased overhead expense which will not translate into a break-even or higher bottom line if the associate is not going to be a source of additional income. Despite what the rumors may say, associates usually do not build practices. They do not go out into the community to promote themselves or the practice, even if it is a stipulation in the associate employment agreement.

Do you plan to have the associate as your exit strategy?

If bringing an associate to your office is a dental practice transition or exit strategy, you need to carefully evaluate the true economic benefit. If you intend to work for 1 to 2 years with a defined exit date, then the transaction can be defined with the associate. If the time-frame for your exit is 3 to 5 years, the cost of the associate may not result in any economic benefit at all.

The expectations of associates (to be partners) and senior doctors are often very divergent. Associates are reluctant to build a larger practice for the senior doctor only to find that they have increased their purchase or buy-in prices.

What about sharing the patient load?

Senior doctors anticipate that they will be able to concentrate on the ‘larger’ cases in the practice and that the associate will treat the ‘routine’ procedures. The associate will get the emergencies, ‘simple’ restorations and generally the procedures that the senior doctor chooses not to do, possibly even keep the office open during hours that are not currently serviced (evenings or Saturdays).

Generally, we find that this type of dental practice transition does not work well. Further, the senior doctor must decide how the associate will be ‘given’ patients. Are all patients of the practice open to the associate? Is the associate expected to do only specialty treatment that the senior doctor normally refers out of the office? Is the associate expected to find or bring in patients to work on?

When an associate does specialty work that is normally referred out of the office to specialists, the practice will indeed keep part of those revenues. However, when the associate treats patients of the practice that the senior doctor normally treats, the practice only keeps the difference between the actual net income of the practice and the total cost of the associate. This percentage may approximate 5% to 10% of gross associate collections!

Is hiring an associate seldom to a good transition strategy?

Many doctors are under the impression that associates are ‘money-makers’ for the practice. Unfortunately, in most cases, an associate will either be a break-even or losing proposition for an office and unless a longer-range strategy is meant to be implemented, the drain will only cost you, the senior doctor, money.

These are questions that Henry Schein Nationwide Dental Opportunities will help you answer while making the hiring process easier and faster, with the best possible outcome.