In December 2018, Group Dentistry Now announced that Aspen Dental, the largest and fastest-growing network of branded dental care providers in the U.S., had just opened its first dental clinic in a Walgreens, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains. Immediately following that move, there were reactions from the industry ranging from anger, to puzzled curiosity, to fear, and finally indifference.
A very respected source within the industry penned an article entitled, “Aspen Moves in Walgreens, and It Probably Won’t Make a Difference to You,” which I found to be remarkably insightful. However, as opinions often do, mine differs to an extent and I thought it appropriate to construct a counterargument. I will not argue any of the points made by Dr. Salierno, as they are valid and well thought-out. That being said, I thought it relevant to communicate a few ideas about where this evolution may eventually lead.
Community health centers have exploded onto the scene as the access to care argument heats up. Considered ‘one-stop shops,’ they’re geared towards serving most of a patient’s primary preventative needs, predominantly in underserved, rural markets. These centers are models of efficiency and built around satisfying both the needs and convenience of patients in hard to reach places.
There have long been arguments for the combination of medical and dental facilities for care, and both the CHC and now these Walgreen/Aspen centers are geared towards that end. One thing that gets lost in this is a small blurb in the Aspen video (see below) showing the inside of the Walgreen store. Prominently displayed are designations for “Optical,” “Hearing,” Pharmacy,” and now “Dental.” It isn’t a far leap to see patients walk into a Walgreen’s freestanding building and have much or all of their preventative treatment taken care of in one stop. One thing to pay attention to is the scheduling mechanisms integrated into Walgreen’s website. If dental scheduling gets added to that, imagine a patient taking a morning off and block scheduling their medical, dental, optical and hearing appointments all in one four-hour timeslot, without the need to travel between providers or rehash insurance information repeatedly.
Currently, Florida sits as one of the top targets for the adoption of mid-level provider approval. Along with several other states, this will allow certified dental therapists to provide basic preventative and palliative treatments to patients in their communities. As this designation increases, it could open the door to a more corporatized delivery model, which would leave a partnership like Walgreens/Aspen in an enviable position to capitalize on the legislature change.
I have worked for more than one elite DSO, and one thing I can definitively say is that analytics drive decisions. All acquisitions, de novo location selections, and new ventures are heavily vetted through an analytical machine for specific metrics that are deemed necessary for success. A significant advantage that DSOs have over their private practitioner brethren is the collection and utilization of data. Its uses are far reaching but include such things as payer relations, vendor relations, site analysis and selection, practice performance modeling and human capital development to name a few. If Aspen sees viability in a collaborative model with Walgreens, there is little doubt in my mind that this model has been well-vetted, and that Aspen feels that this risk includes substantial opportunity.
From the beginning, Aspen has been an industry-changing titan and many of the things they have formulized are now considered industry norms. I don’t see this being any different and it may simply be the next evolution in a provider’s relationship with their patient.
It never ceases to amaze me how many different DSO models exist in the marketplace. Truly, no two are the same and each has their own structure and value proposition. Understanding strategic moves, such as what this could represent, simply indicates a groundswell of momentum uniting the medical and dental communities. While that is happening at all levels, from private practice through larger DSO entities, the method of execution varies dramatically. Ongoing clinical autonomy and AAAHC certification are critical components of our execution strategy at American Dental Partners, and we are proud to differentiate ourselves in these capacities from many of our competitors.
Video tour of the Aspen Dental office in Walgreens led by dentist owner Dr. Kevon Rennie:
Written by Josh Swearingen
Director – Corporate Development
Connect with Josh on LinkedIn
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