Dental Health Associates: Dr. Clifford Lisman, President/CEO

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Dr. Clifford Lisman joined his father’s dental practice in 1978. His father’s practice was one of the few that remained in Irvington, N.J., after the nationwide riots of 1967.

“The practice transformed from being what he initially started in the late 1940s, a blue-collar practice, to being primarily a Medicaid practice,” Lisman said. “Through to the 1990s, there was virtually no fee increase in Medicaid, so he had to develop the ability to do quality work and yet keep costs contained.”

This set of circumstances left Lisman poised to profit when managed care came about in the late 1990s.

“For us, it was a boom as it literally doubled and tripled our fee income, whereas most practices were looking at cuts of 30 to 40 percent,” he said. “That scenario gave us a base in terms of being accountable to marketplace conditions that most other practices didn’t have. It gave us the ability to both preserve the quality of values that my dad preserved in me and at the same time, to be concerned about overhead, to be concerned about cost.”

As a corporate entity, Dental Health Associates was started in February of 1986. The organization currently has nine offices and more than 50 dentists. Dental Health has the largest number of pediatric dentists of any practice in the state of New Jersey. Its total staff numbers more than 300. Income was just shy of $27 million for tax year 2010.

A trio of core-focus values

Dental Health Associates is a multispecialty practice with both general dentists and specialists in virtually every office. Each office generally has somewhere between three and four full-time, general dentists and additional part-time to full-time specialists.

“We do everything from episodic emergency care for indigent patients to boutique dentistry on business executives,” Lisman said. “We work on everyone from infants to geriatrics. We look to be an all-in-one, one-stop place for our patients. While there are some spot procedures that are referred out, most things are handled in the scope of our practice. We pride ourselves at providing great value to both our patients and our third-party payers. We have a phenomenal infrastructure in terms of systems that we have developed and invested in. We have a very dedicated, long-term core staff of individuals. Many have been with us for 15-20 years.”

Dental Health Associates’ values start with customer service and quality care. Then, the organization focuses on employee job satisfaction, growth, and development. Finally, Dental Health looks to the growth and profitability of the practice itself.

“All three core-focus values work in a symbiotic relationship,” Lisman said. “Should, at any time, a conflict develop between one or more of Dental Health Associates core-focus values, the conflict should be resolved in favor of the higher of the core-focus values.”

Investing in a large dental practice

The nine offices of Dental Health Associates are linked by one database. The phone center in Phillipsburg allows them to answer a call to any individual office when the phone rings more than twice. The call-center staff can make an appointment for the patient as if they were in the caller’s intended office.

This is only one example of the ongoing investment Lisman makes in the practice.

“Probably our greatest accomplishment is the development of a system that allows us to manage—literally—8,000-plus different fee plans and to do it very well,” Lisman said. “We are utilizing software that we are developing on our own and have been using over the last several years. It is phenomenal in terms of being able to manage different plans.”

For example, most software programs would be able to indicate to a provider that a sealant is a benefit, but would not be able to distinguish if there were various limitations on reimbursement for that sealant. It might be covered up to age 14 on one plan and age 17 on another. In one plan it might cover only molars, and in another, it might cover molars and pre-molars. One plan might have a frequency limitation of every three years while another says once in a lifetime.

“Our system has the ability to add in those type of rules, and when a provider plugs in a treatment plan—not with 100 percent accuracy, but with a high degree of accuracy—he will be able to present to the patient what their responsibilities are upfront,” Lisman said.

The future of dentistry

Lisman said he has spent the last decade making sure the infrastructure of his practice is sound. Though they have consistently upgraded and improved offices, Dental Health has recently added its first new office in 10 years.

“I fully believe we are poised now to significantly expand both in terms of growth as well as adding on additional offices,” Lisman said.

-by T.M. Simmons

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