Tales from Phoenix #1 – Orthodontics

logo_scuba diver_vert_FINLast week I spent two days in Phoenix Arizona at the excellent ConationNation conference organised by Kolbe Corp. The conference was as inspiring and educational as usual and, as ever with these things, one learns much during the breaks.

One of the great conversations was with someone who works for a brokerage that sells orthodontic practices and therefore finds suitable purchasers for them. The costs involved means that it is rare for anyone to be able to buy a practice upfront and a period of associateship / purchase is involved. (That’s another conversation with relevance to the current UK market). What she didn’t know about the finances of orthodontics wasn’t worth knowing; so that’s treatment patterns, types, costs involved, etc etc. She has 12 years or so experience purely in the orthodontic business (and a background in dental management prior to that) and Initiates in Fact Finder and really knew her stuff.

She has watched the rise of General Practice led orthodontics and the effect that it has had on both specialist and general practices amongst other phenomena. Invisalign has led and promoted, and continues vigorously to promote, the commoditisation of orthodontics – so people are buying a thing first and foremost, not a personalised service. In the USA people are more often buying purely on price – a price that is reducing all the time. The numbers that need to be seen would make the NHS look like a doddle – one orthodontist seeing 120 patients a day – sure they are delegating to assistants but….

We agreed our conclusion by saying the same phrase at the same time, that in view of the widespread availability of treatment, “it’s a race to the bottom”.

OK in the (USA) it’s a more mature market, but there are significant lessons to be learned ahead of the same thing happening on the eastern side of the Atlantic – or is it too late? The only people making real money are the ones who sell the tools, toys and systems or perhaps the ones who put right the treatments that go wrong and there are plenty. And let’s not forget the lawyers who chase them.

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