March 30, 2016 -- Can you believe that greedy corporate interests have subdued the medical profession and forced them to rely on and work for large corporate health conglomerates? Wouldn't it be better if none of the medical doctors took jobs or paychecks from nonphysician-owned corporate medical companies? Shouldn't doctors do their surgeries and other tasks in independently owned, standalone offices? Wouldn't it make more sense to have a cardiologist, an urologist, and a cardiothoracic surgeon on every corner where they own their own shop and do everything in house with their own equipment? Isn't that better for patients?
Corporate medicine and hospitals evolved, not out of thin air, but out of need. Medicine has become so advanced in this country that few, if any, standalone specialists or surgeons could ever afford to have what they need outside of a hospital. Access to medical care has grown through an ever-increasing number of medical school graduates (more than 18,000 in 2015 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges).
This market saturation, though good for the public, makes it difficult for a new graduate to hang a shingle. What choice do they have but to work for "corporate medicine"? Many see this as a bad thing, but if you think about it, what would happen if direct ownership by nonphysicians was not allowed? What would happen if these corporations were not there to offer jobs to the grads, build them offices and hospitals to work in, or buy the necessary equipment? Sounds to me like corporate medicine fills a vital role that traditional practitioners are not willing to address.
What's that you say? Medicine is broken and not to be emulated? We should shut down medical schools to stop the excess supply of doctors and lower pay for doctors?
I know that's the feeling among doctors who don't want to share the marketplace or feel the effects of competition, but having more doctors is in the interest of the public good. Furthermore, if medicine in this country is so bad, then why do so many people travel from so far to have procedures done here? No, medicine in this country is not perfect, but it has become what it is because of the political, social, moral, legal, and financial forces at work in this marketplace. Corporate medicine is the only player who can make the system work and deliver care.
"I'm a dentist, why should I care about this? What are you getting at?" I can hear you saying. Well I'm glad you asked because I said all that to say this ...
Corporate dentistry is good for patients and good for dentistry.
I know you disagree, but allow me to share my reasoning:
More dental schools are opening all the time. More dentists in circulation are beneficial to the public because of the resulting increase in access to care. Trying to shut down dental schools is wholly unrealistic and protectionist. You say you love the profession and want it to carry on after you retire, so why do you want to stop others from doing what you do? Why would you want to limit the public's access to dentists? Don't you want dentists who follow you to do well? How do you expect them to make a living when the cost of doing business and technology are constantly increasing while fees remain flat or decrease? Who is going to provide jobs to all these dentists graduating with nothing but a degree and a ton of student debt?
Corporate dentistry, that's who.
Just like nurse practitioners, midlevel providers (MLPs) will be a reality everywhere eventually. Again, this will be beneficial for the public. Trying to block MLPs individually or via organized dentistry is contrary to the public good and bad for the public image of the profession.
I know you don't like it, but that doesn't matter. I know you want to defend your turf, but that's irrelevant and protectionist. This is healthcare and more access to care is better, because we have a duty to the patients. Who is going to employ these MLPs and expand the reach of affordable dentistry into less desirable markets and small towns that can't support a dentist?
Corporate dentistry, that's who.
"But corporate dentistry is bad! They are ruining the profession! They do terrible work and they cut corners!"
I can hear you screaming at your computer. On what do you base these "facts"? That case you saw that one time? The fact that you and your buddies all agree it is so? Because "they don't do things the right way"?
Interesting. I know you already know about corporate dentistry, but let me share a few things that you might not have considered:
It's even more so for the big boys. I'm betting that if your awesome, traditional office got half the scrutiny that a corporate office gets, you'd be in deep my friend.
It's funny to me that we dentists so desperately want to be considered "real doctors," but we also want to be special and outside of medicine. We constantly complain about how things are but refuse to change.
We can't have it both ways.
We can't stop the future from happening any more than we can hold back high tide or the sunrise. Change is coming and we only have two choices: Deny it or embrace it. If we were smart and if state lawmakers understood the present and future of dentistry, we would push to legalize direct ownership of dental practices in all 50 states in order to facilitate dentistry's move toward the medical model and increase the access and affordability of dental care. This would benefit patients and dentistry in the long run, plus we could fulfill the dream of being considered "real doctors."
I hear you and all your "reasons" why I'm wrong, crazy, and a traitor to dentistry; I've heard it all before and I still don't understand you, because my duty -- our duty -- is to all patients.
Ben Burris, DDS, is an orthodontist, writer, speaker, philanthropist, activist, and patient advocate. He can be contacted at OrthoPundit.com.
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