Safety-net dental clinics

Jan. 24, 2011
Evaluation finds keys to improving community dental practices.

Safety-net dental clinics serve the low-income and underserved who might not otherwise receive care.

To read more about safety-net dental clinics, go to safety net.

The economic downturn and state budget cuts have made it increasingly difficult for these clinics to uphold their mission and keep their doors open.

The Strengthening Community Dental Practices project, a partnership between CHCF and the California Pipeline Program, studied the effectiveness of practice-management consulting on improving the financial sustainability and operational effectiveness of safety-net dental clinics. Nine California practices participated in the pilot.

Harder + Company Community Research, a health and human services consulting firm, evaluated the project. Among the strategies examined were fee schedule adjustments, patient mix modifications, and scheduling procedure changes. The evaluation also examined changes in net revenue, patient mix, and average wait time.

Most clinics made measureable improvements during the project, though the degree of improvement varied. Six key factors supported an environment for successful practice management consulting:

* Buy-in from staff and executive leadership was critical to establishing an openness to change and bolstered follow-through in the implementation phase;
* Strong project champions at both the clinic and executive level ensured that resources and support for a successful engagement were provided;
* A culture that supported change helped to nurture, rather than stifle, innovative thinking;
*Clear project goals helped staff understand why changes were necessary and maintained focus on the work;
*Availability of resources for consulting, such as staff time and capacity to assess data and monitor clinic needs, promoted positive results; and
*Consultation customized to address clinic needs was essential since new and established clinics face different barriers.

The evaluation shows that practice management consulting, despite some limitations, holds significant promise for strengthening a clinic's long-term sustainability.

Read the evaluation summary and report online at

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