Industry beat: Notes from the 2014 DTA annual meeting

Nov. 12, 2014
Notes from our industry editor's trip to the 2014 DTA annual session.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 newsletter. Not a subscriber? Go here to sign up for the latest industry updates delivered twice a week to your inbox.


Last week the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA) held its annual meeting in Indian Wells, California. Over 200 high-level industry professionals gathered to network, discuss the DTA’s business agenda, and listen to speakers – including a keynote presentation by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough. The theme of the event was “Thriving In the New Normal.”

As a first-time attendee (and relative newbie to the dental industry), I had the one-time luxury of seeing things with fresh eyes. Being only slightly familiar with the politics and protocol of the event, I was able to have a number of candid conversations with attendees about the state of the dental industry. At the end of each day, I returned to my hotel room and made notes of these conversations. In reviewing them, I found there were three topics of conversation that kept resurfacing. Here are those topics, along with the loose conclusions I was able to draw on them:

1. There is still no consensus about whether the “corporate” dentistry model, the “limited owner” practice model, or “some other” model will prevail.

One of the biggest things that had people talking was the meeting’s first presentation, given by Marc B. Cooper, DDS. A practice management consultant, periodontist, entrepreneur, and author, Dr. Cooper gave a presentation entitled “The Ascendency of Managed Group Practice.” Although it was well-researched and meticulously presented, it was not popular. In fact, I twice heard it talked about as “doom and gloom.” But why?

In his presentation, Dr. Cooper described the major forces driving change in today's competing dental practice models (the entry of mid-level providers, consolidations and acquisitions, the changing American medical model, etc.). This was not news to attendees, but Dr. Cooper seemed to consider these forces working in a much stronger way than attendees believed. It was as if Dr. Cooper and attendees both felt the rumblings of a coming earthquake … but they greatly disagreed on how big the earthquake would be. While Dr. Cooper painted the picture of a dental model that would be greatly different in 10 years, attendees seemed to think they had more time to shape that model. In short, attendees felt there were still important decisions to be made – or that they would make – that would decide the future of dentistry.

Perhaps this is why a presentation by Matthew Krieger, DMD, was frequently put in contrast to Dr. Cooper’s. Dr. Krieger, a practice owner from Franklin Lakes, N.J., presented the myriad of changes his practice made in order to thrive in the “new normal.” From empowering employees to adopting a highly efficient practice model (Krieger only half-joked about replacing his receptionist’s desk with an operatory), Dr. Krieger presented a case for practices delivering services on a retail model, as opposed to clinical one.

At the end of the day, I personally found Dr. Cooper's and Dr. Krieger’s presentations to be highly valuable (and not because I hope each of them will write for Apex360). Drs. Cooper and Krieger showed there is still much uncertainty about where the industry is headed, and that there are plenty of people who will try to shape the system in the ways they see fit.

2. The science of business relationships is changing, and the dental industry is going to take notice

If you have yet to see the TED Talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability, you should. I say “if you have yet to…” not to make you feel out of touch, but only because millions of people have seen it. (The video has 17 million views on the TED website and 3 million views on YouTube.) The video, first posted in 2010, continues to gain traction and entrench itself into popular culture. At the DTA meeting, it was at the core of two presentations: one by organizational health expert Patrick Lencioni, the other by former global CMO for Proctor & Gamble Jim Stengel. The reasoning was simple. Vulnerability is at the heart of trust, trust is a part of organizational health, and organizational health is a competitive advantage.

Lencioni put it this way: Everyone has access to the same information these days, leadership at most companies is highly intelligent, but not everyone works well together at the office. Therefore, if you and your employees can work well together, you will tap into an unprecedented level of productivity from your tream.

While Lencioni and Stengel’s presentations were both well-received, I was skeptical about how the CEOs and VPs in the room would react to such “touchy-feely” business advice. To my surprise, they took it very seriously. As it turned out, the uncertainty surrounding the dental business (as Drs. Cooper and Krieger aptly presented) makes certainty – in whatever its form – highly attractive those who have to manage risk for a living.

So, if you work as a member of the dental industry, don’t be surprised if you are doing more team-building exercises in the future. However, these team-building exercises won’t be the kind where you fall backwards into the arms of your coworkers. The CEOs I spoke to were more than willing to pay the big bucks to hire consultants who disassemble the inner workings of an organization, allowing them to root out the politics, drama, and tension between employees.

3. As long as networking matters, golf will survive

There are few resources in business as valuable as knowing the right people. And for that reason alone, golf will survive. Some find golf incredibly exciting; others find it incredibly boring. But everyone agrees that there are few better ways to bond than spending four hours together chasing a small, white ball.

The DTA golf tournament, held on Wednesday afternoon, was part of a larger meeting structure that provided as many networking opportunities as possible. Everyone I talked to said networking was consistently fantastic at the meeting, and that’s why they came back year after year.

So whether it was a relationship forged by playing golf, hiking around the rugged Chino Canyon, or test-driving a Tesla (all of which attendees had the chance to do), you can expect the networking that took place at the DTA annual meeting will impact a dental practice near you.

Zachary Kulsrud is senior editor for PennWell Corporation's Dental Group. He covers the dental industry for Apex360 and serves as managing editor for Dental Economics. Email him at [email protected].

Related:2014 Dental Trade Alliance Annual Meeting begins in Indian Wells, California