The bigger picture



Building a practice to include complementary treatments can make good business sense, writes Jane Duru

We say that we treat people, not bodies,” says dentist Dr Nidhi Berera of her approach to running a dental practice. This philosophy drives the Sydney Cosmetic Sanctuary.

In May 2015, dentist Nidhi and her specialist plastic surgeon husband Dr Rohit Kumar set up their combined practice in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt, at her husband’s suggestion. “The whole cosmetics and beauty industry is not just limited to the body or the face-the smile is part of it,” says Nidhi. “He suggested we open up a dental practice and surgery under one roof, and that’s how it started.”

It’s just one example of a larger trend for co-location across dentists in Australia that springs out of a desire to help patients achieve health goals beyond dentistry while also being more convenient for increasingly busy customers. Multi-disciplinary businesses such as Holdsworth House, which has branches in Sydney, Byron Bay and Brisbane, allow individuals to access a range of specialists all under one roof. So now, a visit to the dentist can also be a visit to the doctor, the osteopath, and the plastic surgeon.

Since opening in 1985, starting with “one or two practitioners working half a day a week”, Dr Anthony Shapiro, owner of Avalon Wholistic Medical & Dental Centre, has enjoyed the benefits of working this way. Over time, the business has grown and there are now seven practitioners, including a naturopath, osteopath and acupuncturist, operating under the Avalon umbrella.

The first and most obvious benefit to co-locating is being able to share overheads. “You’re sharing the cost of the receptionist, the lease-there’s a whole heap of financial reasons why that would help in opening a practice,” Nidhi says. Splitting costs can translate into significant savings, while also allowing businesses to afford higher-quality premises or staff than if they were operating separately. However, saving money isn’t the only benefit.

For Dr Prue King, dentist and advocate of holistic health, working with multiple modalities aligns with her treatment philosophy. “I’ve always been interested in holistic health and I had this dream of working in a practice where all of the facilities were under one roof,” she says. “I used to work with osteopaths, naturopaths and holistic GPs, and I felt that it would be good to combine them and have a team approach to health.” Upon arriving in Sydney 10 years ago, she set up Lotus Dental. At Lotus, patients can see the naturopath for health and nutrition, while the osteopath helps those with headaches and neck aches-a service that complements much of the dental practice’s TMJ work.

Convenience is also a great selling point. “We have a lot of patients who’ll book an appointment with me and on the same day they’ll book in an appointment with the dermal therapist,” says Nidhi. “It appeals to those people who are time poor.”

“You want somebody that fits in with your practice, that’s not giving contrary advice. You need someone on the same wavelength.”-Dr Prue King, Lotus Dental, Sydney

Even without incentivised packages, cross-referrals between services are a great way to attract new customers. “More people see you,” says Anthony. “They’re seeing the doctor or acupuncturist and then they’ll see there’s a dentist there-and vice versa.” However, both Prue and Anthony are leery of offering cross-promotional deals, aware that it can make some patients feel like they’re being upsold. “We don’t offer a one-stop shop,” says Anthony. “If a patient had a jaw problem, we’d encourage them to see the osteopath. But we don’t offer any packages where you can have this done and that done.” Prue is in agreement: “We have to be really careful that we don’t say, ‘You need to see the naturopath, the osteopath, the acupuncturist and us.'”

Despite that caveat, there are plenty of customers who appreciate having all their services under one roof, not least because when they have a good experience with a practitioner, they feel more confident in the services of others at the same practice. “We try to have a consistent standard of treatment,” says Prue. “It’s about branding-they know they can trust whoever’s at the practice.”

Part of maintaining the integrity of the brand lies in choosing the right practitioners to partner with your business. Anthony advises going for those disciplines that will complement your practice, while Prue stresses the importance of commercial awareness. “Choose a practitioner who has business sense, who can self promote,” she says. “You want somebody that fits in with your practice, that’s not giving contrary advice. You need someone on the same wavelength.” For both Prue and Anthony, potential partners are researched and vetted thoroughly.

Joining forces with other practitioners may seem like a difficult transition, but a big factor in making partnerships work is having the ability to take on the managerial responsibilities. Even though practitioners aren’t employees, you will still need to organise, administrate and handle the various responsibilities that come with running different services on one premises.

“You have to be able to manage people, because there are more staff than a normal dental practice,” says Anthony. For example, different practitioners may have conflicting needs. Receptionists may require further training to deal with customers undergoing different types of procedures. Even basic technical details, such as which booking software to use, can be a bone of contention. In Nidhi’s case, the fact that the dental bookings software was Windows-based, as opposed to her husband’s Mac-based appointments system for doctors, was another detail that needed to be ironed out before opening.

Despite the potential difficulties, all three dentists agree that seeing the body along more holistic lines and working in this more convenient way is here to stay. Perhaps ultimately, it comes down to customers’ changing expectations. As Nidhi puts it: “People are starting to see the bigger picture of themselves.”

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