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Inside Dentistry

September 2006, Volume 2, Issue 7
Published by AEGIS Communications


Can Your Practice Withstand Disaster?

Roger P. Levin, DDS

Imagine this scenario: One night while you are sleeping, a tornado touches down close to home. The next morning you head to your practice only to find a pile of twisted rubble where your office once stood. What would you do? What should your patients do? How could they reach you? How would you deal with suddenly losing your practice? Although this is a drastic example, many types of disasters can beset a practice. Are you ready to deal with them?

Many dentists are often unprepared to protect their practices when disaster strikes. It is ironic that dentists dedicate their lives to the health and well-being of others, yet often leave themselves vulnerable to a significant financial or emotional setback because of a lack of planning.

There are ways to be prepared for what you hope will never happen.

Threats to Your Practice

As part of our process to help our clients reach their greatest potential, Levin Group regularly examines each practice’s strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and threats to assess each practice’s position, career cycle, strategy, and future. Most dentists are aware of their strengths and are able to take advantage of opportunities, but very few focus on (or worry about) weaknesses and potential threats.

Unfortunately, the hectic pace of the modern dental practice makes it difficult to find time to be concerned about potential negative events that have not occurred and may never occur. Each year, you most likely write a check for life insurance, disability, malpractice, and other insurance policies, never really expecting to use them. Writing the check is easy. Taking steps to avoid negative events and prepare for them is another matter. The solution is a comprehensive disaster plan.

Preparing Your Disaster Plan

Every business should have a disaster plan. The first step is to develop documented step-by-step systems. Although it will take some work, and many practitioners will not take the time to develop step-by-step documented systems, this is essential if a disaster strikes. Why? In the case of a disaster, a recovery plan is the one piece of information that allows the practitioner and team to move forward and recover.

Levin Group once had a client whose practice was destroyed by fire. Within less than a week, the practice reopened in a space shared with another dentist with all of the practice's systems in place. How did this happen? The dentist and staff had computer back-ups of the electronic systems (systems that had been put in place during their consulting program). Consequently, they were immediately able to use their systems in a new location, which allowed the practice to resume operations with only a few days of interruption.

Why You Need a Disaster Plan

Natural Disaster
Without a plan already in place, it may take 6 to 12 months before the practice can be restarted in the same or a different location. Levin Group recommends all dentists create an arrangement with a group of four to five practitioners who agree to offer each other a place to practice if a flood, fire, or other natural disaster leaves one of their offices inoperable for any length of time. Although the arrangement may result in cramped space, there is a reciprocal benefit because each of the four to five practices knows that if a disaster happens to any one of them, they will have a place to practice until their office can reopen.

Illness
Every dentist should have a plan for practice continuity in the event that he or she is unable to practice for some time. If you have an associate or partner, this will be a tremendous help. However, more than 60% of dentists are in solo practices1 and have no clinical coverage in the event of a disaster. Each practitioner should have an agreement with two to three other dentists to cover for them in the event of illness for a period of up to 6 months. If the dentist is unable to practice for more than 6 months, he or she should consider a practice transition with an understanding that the dentist can come back into practice (if the health problem allows).

By having an agreement with three to four other dentists for 1-day-a-week coverage, the practice will have between 3- and 4-days-a-week coverage during the time that the dentist is receiving medical treatment. Levin Group has seen circumstances in which there has been very little attrition of patients as long as the practice was properly covered during the interim period of time.

Loss of Lease
Over the years, Levin Group has had clients who had limited-term leases or even no lease for the space their practices occupied. This is a very dangerous situation because a dentist could quickly learn that the lease has ended or the building has been sold. Levin Group recommends having your lease reviewed regularly by your corporate attorney or an attorney with business contract experience. Always begin to renegotiate the lease well in advance of the end date, leaving time to move if necessary. You do not want to be held hostage to a very high rate of increase because you waited until the last minute and moving would be painful, inconvenient, and expensive.

Death
Unfortunately, over the years we have known dentists who passed away unexpectedly. In most of these cases, there was no transition plan for the practice and the family was left with extensive debt. This tragedy is often compounded by a “fire sale” of the practice and the sudden realization that the surviving spouse will not receive full value for the practice.

A dentist’s unexpected passing can leave others in a very bad situation. Levin Group recommends that dentists look at options such as keyman insurance (a life insurance policy protecting a corporation or business from the death of a key employee), life insurance, or even an agreement with another dentist to buy the practice based on a life insurance policy if anything should unexpectantly happen. This type of transition, while always difficult, will keep the remaining spouse and family financially solvent and able to transition the practice with as little effort as possible.

CONCLUSION

There are many potential disasters facing us in life. As the old adage goes, life is a series of roadblocks and it is just a question of when the next one will appear. Smart business owners protect themselves, their team, and their families by preparing for potential disasters. Planning can make a tremendous difference in the event of a disaster. Although any disaster takes its toll on the practice, there is a tremendous benefit in having a recovery plan in place. In a sense, it is no different than having life or disability insurance. Most dentists would never consider going without life insurance, but allow themselves to practice without a disaster plan.

References

1. ADA 2002 Survey of Dental Practices, May 2004.

If you would like more information or have a specific question preparing for threats to your practice, call Levin Group at 1-888-973-0000 or email customerservice@levingroup.com and our practice analyst will speak to you about your unique situation.

About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO, Levin Group, Inc.
Owings Mills, Maryland

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