I was a bit nervous when I sat down to watch the PBS Frontline investigation, “Dollars and Dentists.” Our profession is witnessing non-traditional practice models thrive while being threatened by mid-level providers. Our reimbursement rates for many third-party plans and Medicaid are low and yet we still have massive student loans to pay off. Would this documentary capture any of our profession’s kindness or just focus on the few bad apples?
My initial reaction was that is was actually pretty fair. I was anticipating a skewed view of mid-level providers but the journalist, Miles O’Brien, was somewhat objective. Dr. Bill Calnon, our ADA President, was excellent at representing dentists’ concerns with second class care for under-served populations. I wish Miles had dug a little deeper to explore this issue, but oh well.
So why do I think “Dollars and Dentists” was generally positive? Here are three reasons:
I love that the film opened with the outstanding work of the Remote Area Medical expeditions, founded by Terry Dickinson DDS. Dentists donate their services around the globe to those in need and it’s nice to get some recognition for it. Although RAM and similar programs are not the solution to the problem of dental access, they show that dentists are committed to finding one.
(2) Raising Awareness of Poor Medicaid Reimbursement
Dr. Cesar Sabates, President of the Florida Dental Association, was well-spoken discussing the poor rates of Medicaid reimbursement in parts of the country. If state governments are committed to helping solve the access to care issue, they must improve reimbursement schedules to dentists. I’m not sure the public is aware at how pitiful some of these schedules are and that a dental office simply cannot expect to treat this population and keep its doors open.
(3) A Portrait of Corporate Dentistry
The program raised concerns about large corporate dental practice chains that put profits over patient care. Let me be clear: I don’t think that all “corporate dentists” are unethical. There are ethical and unethical dentists in all practice models, whether they be in solo practice, small group practice, whatever. But it does seem that there are many former employees of the corporate practice model who share stories of having been pressured to act unethically. I do encourage any effort to educate the public about the different types of practice models out there. A well-educated patient can better navigate their options in selecting the care that is right for them.
If you missed the show last night, you can check it out at this link here.