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Thursday Troubleshooter: Dentist couple needs guidance about opening new practices

March 31, 2016
This oral surgeon/prosthodontist married couple are starting their practices and they want to know: separate or join practice, and how will their partnership or non-partnership affect their businesses and referrals?

QUESTION: I’m an oral surgeon about to start my own practice. My husband is a prosthodontist. We both want to work in the same area, and we share a last name. We are trying to decide whether it would be wise, from a practice management point of view, to start two separate practices miles apart or to open a joint one. I have a feeling that general dentists will not refer to me for fear of losing patients to my prosthodontist husband.

ANSWER FROM ALLEN SCHIFF, CPA, CFE, managing partner of Schiff Dental CPAs:
Here are some of my suggestions: You each open your own practices about 15 to 20 miles apart. As the wife, consider using your maiden name as opposed to your married name.

You could also consider establishing “trade names” to help protect your identities. General dentists will refer to both of you if you have separate and distinct practices for your subspecialties of oral surgery and prosthodontics.

The other idea I have is to combine your two subspecialties with the other specialties (pediatrics, ortho, and endo) and create a large group practice. You would probably need 4,000 to 5,000 square feet facility to accomplish this. This setup would keep all dentistry within your own four walls and you would not refer out any dentistry.

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
You are right in knowing that if you have a joint practice other GPs will hesitate to refer any patients your way. And with the same last name it makes it equally hard to separate the two of you even if you’re 20 miles apart in different directions.

I’ve worked with several husband and wife practices who are very successful as GP and pediatric dentists in the same building using the same reception area. One side of the office is for adults and the other is a play area for kids. But pediatric dentists get most of their referrals from mothers and pediatricians, not other dentists.

The only advice I have is to establish your offices far enough apart so that a conflict of interest does not crop up. But even with different last names, if it’s a small dental community, those GPs will eventually know you two are married and it could spell disaster.

I agree with Linda Mile’s response because you as the oral surgeon will have a difficult time with referrals under the scenario you have described. That being said, I do work with a married couple (prosthodontist and general dentist) who are in the same building and share a reception area.

In your particular situation, I have a tendency to wonder if you could capitalize on your opportunity by creating a multispecialty practice in one location. You could possibly add a general dentist or another specialist to the practice. I do work with a few dentists who are doing this very successfully in one practice location. Good luck!

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