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Why ADA / Intelligent Dental Marketing Failed?

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The ADA is an Incredible Dinosaur

By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDSpruitt

As a member of the ADA, I am also a part owner in any business venture the leaders of the organization enter into. I’ve observed the loss of my investment in a business deal because my employees made mistakes. As a business owner, it would be simply irresponsible for me to ignore something like this.

The Embarrassing Story  

Do you know what part is missing from this embarrassing story? The ADA has not uttered a word about the ADA/IDM failure… Or, as the ADA Business Enterprise Inc. leaders call it – the ”ADA/idm” failure.

The fact that the two business entities never came to an agreement on what to even call their doomed joint venture reveals a lot about the egos that gummed up the machinery. It’s possible that pride undermined our non-profit/for-profit partnership from the very start. We just don’t know what happened because there are so many possible reasons for this business model to fail. Will loss of ADA members’ investment happen again if the cause is not recognized and eliminated? I think the chances are pretty good that even more embarrassment is on the way. Given the soft environment, it’s only natural.

Over my 27 year career as a dentist, I have met many ADA officials, both employed and elected, on all three levels of the tripartite system of governance – local, state and national. From the topmost quality of character I have witnessed in all but a few politically-empowered and proudly insensitive exceptions, I can assure you that like all major projects of the ADA, the failed ADA/IDM adventure into dental marketing was assembled with nothing but noble intentions and benevolent wishes for ADA members and dental patients – at least from the ADA side. Whether the leaders of the ADA’s new business partner, Intelligent Dental Marketing out of Utah, were dedicated to serving ADA members in a captive market is unlikely. The ADA/IDM business model is sort of like managed care dentistry. When dentists sign contracts that provide them with clients regardless of how they are treated, there is a natural tendency for dentists to become unappreciative of those who pay their bills.

Little Consumer Competition  

The ADA allows Americans to experience what socialism is like in markets where there is no competition for consumers: Professionals such as dentists stop trying to please their patients, and IDM stops trying to please dentists. If IDM was a decent company before the business venture with ADA membership, the ADA ruined them with a sweetheart deal that included protecting them from competition, as well as shielding them from complaints by angry ADA members. And like dental patients with preferred provider lists, ADA members noticed the bad treatment. However, complaints were never made transparent even as more ADA members where signing contracts with ADA/IDM. That is unfair and unethical.

Just Google for Complaints  

Want to see what an embarrassment in situ looks like? Just Google “CareCredit complaints.” ADA-approved CareCredit/GE has a long history of sweetheart deals like the one they made with ADA leaders. Their trail is always marked by complaints. The ADABEI is selling ADA members’ reputations. I just read ADA reporter James Berry’s article highlighting outgoing ADA President Dr. John S. Findley’s address to the House of Delegates that he gave on Friday. The article is titled, “We built our home on a foundation of science and values: Dr. Findley”

http://www.ada.org/prof/resources/pubs/adanews/adanewsarticle.asp?articleid=3771

One free-standing paragraph in the article caught my attention that perhaps exposes a symptom of the pride and secrecy that surrounds the ADA/IDM disaster. In the middle of the article, James Berry offers this cryptic message that was obviously not meant for all members to understand:

“On the Association itself, the president noted that the ADA has undergone significant change in the past year and a half. As problems were discovered and defined, he said, the leadership acted to resolve them.” 

Was the ADA/IDM fiasco one of the problems that was resolved? Did they resolve the problem with CareCredit/GE causing ADA members to be covered by the Red Flags Rule – and not letting members know about it? Did they resolve the problem of data breaches and how they can mean certain bankruptcy for ADA members, even if the members do the right thing?

Possibly  

We just don’t know which problems were resolved, but somehow we should feel much better, now that President Findley got the message out to mid-level ADA leaders who probably know exactly what he is referring to. And, by protecting lower caste members from knowing things they don’t need to know, problems are quietly resolved and the profession’s image is preserved. “Image is everything” – ADA/IDM business slogan.

“Findley for the future”- Dr. John S. Findley’s campaign slogan.

Bingo! We have a match.

We should not forget that before IDM leaders got in way over their heads and started doing foolish things like marketing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) talents they lacked, there has not been a dues increase for a couple of years – in part because of the profits that were churned from ADA/IDM purchases ADA members made. I am certain that the ADA Business Enterprise Inc’s failure breaks the hearts of sincere and devoted leaders in the ADA who would have never recommended going outside the ADA’s Mission Statement had ADA employees been transparent with them. The officials of IDM couldn’t care less. Their part of the venture is much easier to dissolve for the Utah businessmen. They just picked up and walked away. However, the ADA officials have a fiduciary responsibility to members who trusted them. Once again, virtually all of the ADA leaders are just like you and me. Some just got in too deep on our behalf and couldn’t shut the mistake down before members got needlessly hurt.

Officials in other businesses the size of the ADA are held accountable for their mistakes and are not afforded the opportunity to filter communications with the owners because of image concerns. This kind of sweetheart deal for business executives, most of who come from Delta Dental, UnitedHealthcare or both, as in the case of the new executive director, Dr. Kathleen T. O’Loughlan, occurs only in the ADA and to a lesser extent in the US government and dental insurance industry.

Assessment

The state of the ADA is not nearly as rosy as Dr. Findley would have us believe. I think we have all seen authoritarian leaders re-write history. The ADA is an incredible dinosaur.Business can be ugly in the highly competitive land of the free. If businesses don’t take risks, we cannot move forward. For that reason, mistakes are expected. But never forget. Owners expect to be told about them.

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Journal of the American Dental Association [Letter to the Editor]

ADA Image Tarnished?

[By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDSpruitt]

Dear Editor,  

This is a sincere letter which I am sure you will agree should be published in the October 2009 edition of the JADA. Today is July 19, 2009. I am allowing for the six weeks minimum time it requires for letters to appear in print following their selection for publication. It will be posted on the Internet immediately. In spite of this, I trust you will eventually agree to publish it in spite of your archaic rules. Otherwise, by November, history could show that the editor of the JADA arguably denied representation of dental patients’ interests at a most critical time in the history of the profession. That would be regrettable for your own professional reputation as well as for the JADA’s. As an ADA member, if my concerns are ignored, I will hold you publicly accountable for an explanation for a long time.

Public Laundry

From now on, we will agree to wash our laundry in public because otherwise it doesn’t always come clean. You can call the pressure I bring unprofessional if you want, but following the ADA News’ public exhibition of their shoddy ethics this week, it would be foolish to use my methods as an excuse to deny my access to membership. As I am certain you are aware, there were three revisions of “ADA/idm to phase out service” on ADA News Online (7/10, 7/13 and 7/16). I not only welcome a wide-open public discussion about ethics in journalism with representatives of the JADA, but I encourage it. We both know that the ADA needs clean laundry now more than ever before in its history.

ADA Business Enterprises, Inc.

For members who haven’t heard, the 2 ½ year old joint venture of our ADA Business Enterprises, Inc. (ADABEI) with Intelligent Dental Marketing – a Utah-based private business – fell apart in late spring of this year. Months later, our ADA leaders are still less than transparent with membership about what went wrong. I’ve been in business long enough to know that if mistakes by employees are not revealed and discussed, they are bound to happen again and again. And, it’s not like the leaders of the ADA were not warned. They just didn’t take heed. By late 2007, many knowledgeable people involved in the dental industry easily recognized the faults in the partnership between our non-profit professional organization and a for-profit Utah advertising company. In hindsight, anyone can see that ADA/IDM’s slogan, “Image is everything,” clearly betrays an attitude inconsistent with both the mission of the ADA and the Hippocratic Oath. Nevertheless, even the spirit of the slogan was regretfully adopted by the leaders of the ADA’s Business Enterprises, Inc. Now it is the image of the entire ADA that is suffering the damage.

ADABEI

I personally began questioning the accountability of the tricky ADA/IDM business model over two years ago when the profits from ADABEI had officials excited about avoiding the need to raise membership dues last year. Not unexpectedly, in the atmosphere of euphoria, nobody in Chicago wanted to acknowledge the concerns of a handful of alert members. We were cast aside as troublemakers. So how critical is the risk? With massive, unprecedented health care legislation imminent, this is the worst time imaginable for our stoic, image-conscious officers to lead us to nation-wide embarrassment.

Following the Money

The surrender to such temptations for leaders of non-profit organizations is not unprecedented. Do you know why the dues for the American Association of Retired People (AARP) have been kept so low? Not unlike the ADA, the non-profit AARP reaps profits from insurance policies and other products that its leaders sell to membership – even using misleading ads in AARP dues-supported publications. However, unlike dues money, vendor “kickbacks” don’t depend on accountability to members. A few years ago, the profits derived from agreements with vendors predictably became the lifeblood for AARP’s self-perpetuating bureaucracy – eventually influencing their lobbying efforts. Since non-profits like the AARP and the ADA are traditionally respected by lawmakers who like huge campaign donations, a non-profit entity’s lobbyists can be tempted to quietly represent vendors’ interests at members’ expense. Sometimes they get caught.

Lost Confidence

Almost a year ago, the AARP lost valuable member confidence when the organization was forced to suspend sales of “limited benefit” health plans backed by UnitedHealth Group (of Ingenix fame). Sen. Chuck Grassley said the plans which leave policyholders vulnerable to tens of thousands of dollars in costs were sold by the AARP to naïve and trusting members using misleading marketing tricks – not unlike those used in the ADA’s promotion of ADA/IDM. Sen. Grassley sent a detailed letter to CEO Bill Novelli demanding answers to questions about health insurance plans promoted to over a million dues-paying AARP members. Grassley told USA Today reporter Julie Appleby that “Insurance is supposed to limit your exposure to the potentially high cost of a serious illness and these plans do the opposite.” (Nov 7 2008).

http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-11-07-aarp-insurance_N.htm

Is AARP-level accountability as good as it gets?

I say no. Attention ADA members – It is my opinion that our leaders are losing the control of our professional organization. The recent failure of ADA/IDM isn’t the first glaring sign of trouble in Headquarters. Over a year ago, the executive director, Dr. James Bramson, was suddenly fired with no explanation. In fact, then President Dr. Mark Feldman commanded that the reasons for the firing will not be disclosed. Obediently, ADA leaders have so far maintained firm control of the top secret information which if released could somehow endanger dental patients (?). Because Bramson’s severance pay came from my dues and not out of Dr. Feldman’s pocket, I think I deserve to know more details. Otherwise, this mistake could happen again and again.

The ADA/IDM disaster is also not the only ADABEI embarrassment I see on the horizon. It is my opinion that CareCredit is also showing signs of silent desperation. On July 9, the officials of the wholly-owned ADA subsidiary purchased an ad on dentalblogs.com titled “Press Release: CareCredit Adds 24-Month, No-Interest [sic] Payment Plan” (no byline).

http://www.dentalblogs.com/archives/administrator/press-release-carecredit-adds-24-month-no-interst-payment-plan/

Even though I approve of the benevolence in the idea of extending credit to those with worsening dental problems – especially during these hard financial times for patients – the anonymous CareCredit (ADA) representative who posted the ad failed to respond to my timely and important question: “If the Red Flags Rule is not delayed for the third time in three weeks, how will it affect those who offer Care Credit?”

Assessment

Nor did he or she respond to my follow up response on July 13. “On July 9 at 4:54 pm, I submitted a sincere question concerning how the Red Flags Rules will affect ADA members who sign up for CareCredit. Instead of posting it with the promise of an answer, you regretfully chose to censor an ADA member. Today, July 13, I have a second and third question: Why did you ignore my first one and who is your boss?”

Conclusion

So far, I’m still waiting for responses to all three questions. I trust you will treat my concerns with more respect, Editor.

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Collaborative Dental Health 2.0 [Upcoming Three Part Series]

Hippocratic Dental Consumerism

By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDSpruitt

Even before the downturn in the economy sent dentists scrambling for new sources of patients, these were already times of revolutionary changes in the marketing of dental care. To those who are alert, the Internet-enabled chaos signals a rare opportunity if one sides with consumers rather than tradition. It takes confidence to welcome transparency, and it looks increasingly bad when dentists resist accountability in traditional ways – like suing. Yelp; because of a bad review that was posted on the patient referral site. That is the second stupidest thing one can do. Being perhaps a geeky student of the Internet, and sort of nosey, I have been tracking the popularity of dentists’ comments on a few Internet venues for quite a while, because of my own curiosity.  I also get ornery enjoyment from reporting to my friends my opinion of what is really happening in my profession that nobody else talks about. My hobby could be called fuzzy data mining based on a platform of precise subjectivity. 

For more intricate and dependable real-time information, I choose the surveys reported on The Wealthy Dentist Blog, hosted by Jim Du Molin. They are the best around.

Link: http://www.thewealthydentist.com/blog/

American Dental Association

The ADA also provides nice, formal presentations of even more accurate information, but it is often dated and not ground-level relevant like Du Molin’s studies. Until the Internet came along, gathering useful information about dentists’ prevailing attitudes outside one’s professional circle was virtually impossible, and dentists are well aware that even within these circles, colleagues’ opinions at dental meetings are sometimes intentionally misleading – perhaps mine are less reliable as well at social gatherings. I never talk this frankly in real life. 

Dental Information Silos 

Talk about information silos!  No less that 85% of dentists in the nation are owners of solo private practices (ADA News), and only 2% have bubbly personalities (my guess). Dentists’ quiet isolation, which is arguably favored by what I would guess would be around 85% of dentists in the nation, is a unique characteristic in modern healthcare that is part of a unique labor-intensive art – performed to exacting tolerances in an unpredictable environment – intricate work that most consumers know little about. Yet the ultra-personal accountability welcomed by almost all solo dentists is the way even neighborhood physicians once practiced their trade for thousands of years before modern stakeholders became involved. 

Hippocratic Oath

Is working alone with one’s chosen staff the most efficient way to provide dental care?  No way.  But for me personally, maintaining complete control of the care I provide from start-to-finish for those who depend on me is safer for them and a better business model for me than any alternative I have seen yet.  In my opinion, there is no room in the Hippocratic Oath for less than 100% devotion to the patients’ interests. More than two thousand years later, it is called consumerism, and it is 180 degrees counter to stakeholders’ interests, preferred provider lists and universal healthcare. And, it probably comes as no surprise that last October I observed that the most popular comments that were posted shifted from news about the benefits of high-tech inventions in dentistry to advice for how to survive in a tough economy. The whole nation is concerned about finances, and getting one’s teeth cleaned is commonly sacrificed when things get tough. Don’t even mention implants and crowns.

2009 Recession 

At the risk of sounding ostentatious as well as pedantic, I will offer that (for the time being) my practice is not suffering from a downturn that many of my local colleagues are enduring. In fact, I am actually busier than I was this time last year – and I made more profit in 2008 than ever before in 26 years of practice. I am also discovering that patients I lost long ago are returning now that they no longer have provider lists. They are also finding that my prices are not so high after all (in fairness, I should add that it has been longer than usual since I have raised fees – except for full gold restorations, of course). Since I am not in the business of selling advice, I am not afraid to also admit that my practice still experienced a couple of slow periods in the late fall – directly attributable to the initial shock of the downturn.  But I cannot say that the slowdown was any worse than other times in the last few years, and it certainly hasn’t been as bad as what dentists in Michigan must endure. My sympathy and best wishes go out to my colleagues up north. Things could all turn for the worse for me tomorrow, but for right now, I’m somewhere between surviving and thriving, for what that is worth; nothing spectacular, but solid.

Three Part Series 

This posting, which I hope some readers find useful, will be a multi-part series. I haven’t worked everything out yet, and my outline is subject to change, but here is what I have in mind.

In Part One, I’ll describe how my active participation in DR. Oogle (doctoroogle.com) has not only kept my name off of preferred provider lists, but it has also improved the quality of care my staff and I provide, as well as improved the working atmosphere in the office. Transparency will do that.

Then, in Part Two, I will offer my suggestion how one can use DR. Oogle or similar patient referral site to “graduate” from managed care into fee-for-service dentistry without losing patients or profit. As a naughty teaser, let me hint that over three years ago, I offered the idea as an article for the monthly newsletter of my local dental society, only to be refused publication for the first time in over two decades of submissions. I was told that an official nixed it as a transparent “scheme” to harm managed care dental companies, and was therefore below the standards of ADA publications.

“Image is everything”

-ADA/Intelligent Dental Marketing

Finally, in Part Three, I’ll describe how a good offense is also a handy defense – perhaps even in defense against malpractice litigation. Hopefully, a few sincere readers will consider playing to win rather than playing not to lose. And, for those who still don’t see my point, I will reveal how to play not to lose. Fair is fair.  It costs from $625 to $1995 per year, and in my opinion, is the stupidest thing one can do. Hope you enjoy this three part series. 

Assessment

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on PennWell. Dr. Pruitt blogs here and at others sites. His insights are applicable to most all medical specialties.

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On Ingenix and Delta Dental

Or, Birds of a Feather; etc. etc

By Darrell K. Pruitt; DDS

pruitt10

Introduction

Just a quick note while I’m working on other material. As anyone can see from reading Rabia Mughal’s DrBicuspid article, “Dentists or patients: Who should get the insurance check?” Delta Dental is simply a sleazy company that dentists should shun to protect their patients’ welfare.

http://www.drbicuspid.com/index.aspx?sec=sup&sub=pmt&pag=dis&ItemID=301436&wf=34

It is unethical to sign a contract with Delta Dental, and I will help Delta show you why. Here is a sample of Delta sleaze I intend to present:

Arlene Furlong on Delta Dental

On September 17, 2008, Arlene Furlong posted an article about Delta Dental on ADA News Online titled “Delta caps rates nationally for two networks.”

http://www.ada.org/prof/resources/pubs/adanews/adanewsarticle.asp?articleid=3218

Furlong writes:

“A contract provision that holds dentists to Delta’s maximum allowed fee for non-covered services will affect all of Delta’s Premier and Preferred Provider Organization participating dentists throughout the country by January 2011.″.

The Upshot 

This means that if a Delta preferred provider wishes to make up for the profit lost from providing Delta customers 25% discounts on dentistry, which works out to over half the dentist’s pay after expenses are deducted, doing more cosmetic dentistry will no longer help keep the doors open.  Delta, like a sleazy dentistry broker, is telling its providers that it will demand discounts on everything for its customers. Think about it. It is beyond unfair business practice. It is tyranny.

Invading the Dental Homes 

And now, Mughal tells us that Delta Dental intends to break up dental homes – where patients enjoy the benefits of continuity of care from dentists they prefer.  Why does Delta harm their clients like that? 

Ari Adler, the communications administrator at Delta Dental of Indiana says it is a matter of dentists stealing something from the network:

“Direct reimbursement to out-of-network dentists is a problem because it allows them to enjoy the benefits provided by the network without following cost guidelines and quality control measures of the network”, [Adler] added.

Quality control; you mean like UnitedHealthcare’s Ingenix? 

When one thinks about it, since dentists will only be paid half of what they are paid today, no matter what they do for dental patients, quality control could indeed become a new issue, just like the appearance of black-market dentistry. 

My Beat 

I will be covering quality control by dental consultants soon. Did you know that they have their own national organization? It is called the American Association of Dental Consultants (AADC). I bet you didn’t know this: Less than a year ago, Dr. Gordon Christiansen as well as Dr. John Luther, Senior Vice-President of the ADA, spoke at their annual convention in Scottsdale, Arizona. Delta Dental was Dr. John Luther’s employer before he came to work for the ADA. Hmm, I wonder?

Wait, there’s more:  the AADC’s largest sustaining sponsor is UnitedHealthcare Dental. http://aadc.org/site/sponsors.php

The Ingenix Scandal

Have you heard of UnitedHealthcare’s company called Ingenix?  New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo caught Ingenix being creative with physicians’ FOIA-disclosable data for cost-control purposes (profit), and calling it quality control.  Ingenix was marketing its professional number-cooking scheme to insurers across the nation before Cuomo saw through their deceit and recently demanded Ingenix to be dissolved. 

Transparent Feudal Mechanisms 

One can see that incest probably worked well for royalty in Europe until literacy and the free-market brought transparency to their self-perpetuating feudal machinations. I will be watching for a name and email address of an appropriate Delta Dental official to contact about Delta’s sleazy business practices.  At some point in this thread (which I can keep active for years), I intend to make someone from Delta Internet-famous among dentists, just like Trajan King, CEO of Intelligent Dental Marketing. Suggestions from readers and subscribers are always appreciated.  Please, no in-laws.

Assessment 

It is time to come out and defend yourself in front of a hostile audience, you good ol’ boys from Delta Dental … or not.  Your old command-and-control tricks don’t stand a chance in a transparent marketplace, and I will show you that silence is lame defense as well. Someone on your team is trapped. Please, let’s talk sooner than later.

Conclusion

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