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Dr. AJ Acierno Talks About Thriving as 2022 Approaches 

Dr. AJ Acierno is CEO of DecisionOne Dental Partners. After Dr. Acierno’s presentation at the 2021 DEO Fall Summit, Patient Prism’s CEO, Amol Nirgudkar, and Dr. Acierno talked about where the dental industry is moving and how DSOs are thriving.

 

 

 

Moving from Surviving to Thriving

Nirgudkar: What ideas are you bringing to the table in 2021, going into 2022?

Acierno:  I hate to rhyme but I think it’s time to move our frame of mind from surviving to thriving. At the DEO, we've always gone by the concept that if you're not growing, you're dying. We've been in a survival mode for two years. So, how are we going to thrive? Patients have come back but we’re short-staffed. This the hardest time ever to recruit team members and run a company but now is the time to focus on growth. You’ve got to think differently. You’ve got to think out of the box. The first thing you’ve got to figure out is how you are going to manage the teams that you have.

Nirgudkar: It's so fundamental, yet you have to figure out how to retain, recruit, and inspire your own teams. And there is nobody better at that than your DSO, DecisionOne. Every year, I see you winning awards for being one of the best places to work. What are you doing that is special to inspire your team?

Acierno: Team members want to know what their why is first and then how DecisionOne’s why fits into their why. Team members want to grow. How do we help them continue to grow? We have small companies within a large company. Dentistry is a local business and we want those small companies to thrive as a local business. The dentists and their team members are the leaders of their local business. I think that context helps. 

Nirgudkar: Right. You've got to understand your first audience is the doctors and the teams. They need to feel that they're part of something bigger and they're changing people's lives. You started with one office. Now you're managing hundreds of offices. How do inspire teams and make sure the doctors are aligned with your core values and vision on such a large scale?

Acierno: Training programs that start with learning who are you coming to work for and the foundational values. But even before that we want to know their values, their foundations, what they want to achieve. We can then discuss with the doctors and team members how everything blends into a vision of the practice. Then, we introduce certain communication skills that solve two major problems in dentistry--patients who are not accepting treatment and team. After that, we can move into the foundation of a dental practice which is the patient journey. Understanding the offices and their issues, enables us to individualize the training so our DecisionOne culture moves into theirs and moves forward.

 

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Are Perceptions About DSOs Accurate?

Nirgudkar: Are dental professionals’ perceptions about DSOs accurate? Every dentist I’ve talked to in a DSO feels they have autonomy to do the best clinical dentistry they know how to do. They don’t think there are limitations on how they practice. And yet, many private dentists think the DSO environment is otherwise. We've talked about this before.

Acierno: First, this industry has been awesome at helping each other grow. You have to be comfortable enough with your product to be able to say, “I'm going to come to a meeting like this and share everything possible because I know that the product's good.” Second, in a DSO, we have to make sure we are providing quality care or our reputation is ruined and we can’t grow. Leaders in the business are looking out for the issues occurring at the local level that get in the way of patient satisfaction and treatment acceptance. These leaders are trainers and coaches. The clinical leaders are helping individual dentists and hygienists develop their practices locally by encouraging them and assisting them on the road to mastering the skills and goals they want to achieve most. DSOs are making dentists better and fostering better care.  

Nirgudkar: There has been this misperception that doctors are losing their autonomy. And I know that's not true because I've interviewed hundreds of doctors in DSOs and nobody says that.

Acierno: The perception exists because disgruntled dentists leave DSOs and say they were told to work more hours to meet their financial goals. I’ll give you an example. Here’s a doctor who wants to make $250,000 a year but also doesn’t want to work five days a week or ever on weekends. We have to say, that won’t work. 

Nirgudkar: Your customer isn’t going to come to you if you are not available. You are in the customer service industry. Sometimes you need to see patients on weekends and evenings. To generate case acceptance, you are going to have to spend more time communicating with each patient and making them feel special. To have a thriving growing practice, you need to meet patients where they are and go from there.

At the end of the day, what I have noticed is the leaders in this industry really put themselves into elevating everybody. They want clinicians to perform at their highest level and give them the support they need to do that. 

 

 

What Positives Came Out of the Pandemic?

Nirgudkar: The stress of the pandemic has been tough on everyone.

Acierno: We can't control the pandemic or the social unrest across America, but we can help control the environment that's occurring in each of our dental practices. We can help our team members with what is going on in their lives. We ask them, “What do you really need? What kind of help can we give you?” We can help patients in the same way feel accepted and worthy of care. We can say, “When you're here, you are going to be our top priority. And everyone is accepted here. We care about what’s happening in your life and your needs.” That mindset of asking about the needs of others has been transformative and helped us look differently at our practices. We have a 3-S acronym which stands for “Safe, Smile, Space.”

Somebody asked me, “What positives came out of the pandemic?” The positives that came out of the pandemic were that we started listening more to each other and forming relationships. That’s where magic happens. The pandemic has moved us closer to our people. And moving closer to our people has helped them move closer to their patients so they are delivering the care that patients deserve.

Nirgudkar: And that's why it is exciting to be in this place [the DEO Fall Summit]. These types of events enable solo practitioners, small group practices, and all sizes of larger organizations to meet each other and share their experiences and ideas. Interactions and conversations are changing dentistry for the better. I feel fortunate to be part of it.

Acierno: And Patient Prism is impacting the industry and changing it, as well, by improving communication and the patient experience. What is best for patients is access to care and helping them accept the treatment they need. Patient Prism technology is helping that happen.

 

Watch more videos with Dr. AJ Acierno:

 


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