Dental Care Alliance has unlocked how to make the dentist enjoyable

Craig Murray and his team create patient-focused environments for Dental Care Alliance

Craig Murray, Dental Care Alliance

Established in 1991, Dental Care Alliance (DCA) is one of the country’s oldest and largest dental-service organizations, with more than 260 affiliated practices in 13 states. Craig Murray, vice president of real estate and strategic initiatives, helps the company maintain its forward momentum by identifying the most desirable sites and supporting the development of patient-focused practices.

When Murray transitioned from large-scale construction projects—such as a 15-story patient tower at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston—he assumed that new construction and renovation of dental offices would be simple by comparison. He discovered, though, that this wasn’t the case.

“Every practice is different and caters to the preferences and routines of the professionals who work there,” Murray says. “So, even though we work with standardized modules for different areas of each office, they’re always customized to suit the clinical team.”

Murray characterizes 2,800 square feet as the sweet spot both for his construction and design teams and for his architectural and equipment partners. A typical design revolves around nine operatories, with priorities placed on efficient flow and utilization, maximization of revenue-producing space, and patient comfort and convenience.

“Whether we’re building from the ground up or remodeling and refreshing, flow and efficiency are essential: wasted time, effort, and movements add up over the course of a year—or many years,” Murray explains. “That influences everything from staff energy to how patients feel about their experience and, ultimately, the bottom line.”

Some of the construction and design details that go into a patient-centric project range from televisions and video games in the waiting area, to easy access to office staff, and even back-office systems (also handled by DCA) to make the overall experience as effortless as possible. Other elements include medical-grade vinyl in operatories for easier, faster cleanup and matte finishes on walls for a look that stays clean, even if a framed picture is moved to a new location.

Craig Murray and his team fit Dental Care Alliance’s standard design details, including waiting areas with easy access to office staff, to a variety of distinct locations.

“It’s no secret that most people don’t enjoy going to the dentist,” Murray says. “We design our offices to be soothing and welcoming to patients while also providing an efficient workflow for our teams. It’s important to us to create a warm, comfortable atmosphere that matches the high quality of customer service and clinical care that our team provides.”

Dental practices have been undergoing a transition for the past several years, similar to what banks experienced a decade ago. Hours are being extended to stay open later, often including on weekends, and offices are being drawn to traditional retail locations. As more and more brick-and-mortar retailers have closed, they have presented Murray with a tremendous opportunity to develop partnerships between DCA and commercial developers and landlords.

DCA is in an excellent position to develop those relationships due to its ongoing growth and the overall reputation of its practices as financially stable, long-term tenants, he notes. This reputation helps position the company and its associates as highly desirable partners.

“In Florida, we want to be up and down both coasts and across Interstate 4, where we already added 11 offices in 2016,” Murray says. “And we’re looking at 20 different areas to add to our existing 109 statewide practices in the next three years. Those are great incentives when I ask developers what inventory they have available to help us fulfill our objectives.”

Similar plans are in the works in the Atlanta area and in other DCA markets across the country. The momentum has also led to new partnerships with urgent care practices looking to establish non-emergency medical care destinations and co-tenant relationships.

The pace of DCA’s expansion is currently 10–12 new construction projects, 10–12 acquisitions (culled from a pipeline of 30–40), and approximately 20 renovations per year. Special attention is also being paid to “tuck-ins”: underutilized or soon-to-be-retired practices that DCA acquires wholly or in part. This presents a number of attractive benefits, particularly for dental practitioners nearing retirement and planning to sunset their offices.

“At the end of their careers, dentists who would like to continue working just a couple of days a week can rely on us to manage and supply whatever staff is needed and handle all of the back-office details,” Murray says. “They can go home at the end of the day without the hassle of doing the books or finding a replacement hygienist or other staff members. We do all of that.”

In the next two years, DCA is also focusing on streamlining its operational software and solutions. The priority is to standardize and migrate all processes to a centralized system so that efficiencies can be maximized. This will allow local office staff members to devote themselves to personal interactions with patients like handling billing questions and explaining treatment plans.

All this is accomplished through extensive collaboration between DCA and other real estate industry players. Although the industry is large, the community itself is small and shares insights into various locations, best practices, new developments, and landlords.

There is also tremendous teamwork among Murray’s staff. “I succeed because I have a team that likes to work hard, isn’t afraid to jump in to help out when it’s needed, even in unfamiliar areas, and takes pride in their work,” he says. “They’re why I succeed.”

That kind of effort is one of the reasons patients can walk into a DCA facility anywhere in the country and always get the same consistent, high-level quality of care—which Murray believes is exactly what they should expect.

Portrait: Erica Marten Photography