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Why I Close 23 of My Dental Offices Once A Year


An Open Letter to the Dental Industry

I’ve known since I was about 19 years old that I wanted to be a dentist. I’ve been practicing for 17 years. But seven years ago I saw a change happening in dentistry and it became clear to me what I needed to do.

My brother is also a dentist. When I approached him with my idea, he immediately joined me. We started DecisionOne Dental with one purpose: put patients first. Insurance companies are changing our industry and they’re creating a barrier between doctors and patients, they’re creating a disconnect. This isn’t just a financial effect, it’s fundamentally personal. We have pressures to see more patients, but spend less time with them. Our office staff has more paperwork to look down at than patients faces to look up to. Everything is numbers now, not names. It may seem counterintuitive but to connect more with our patients, we’ve committed to close our offices -- to NOT see patients -- for at least one day every year.

This month we hosted our 6th annual D1 Rally. We close every one of our offices for the entire day, and all 250 of our team members rally together to reinforce our mission of putting patients first. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments and share a vision for the future of our business as well as our profession. But most importantly we welcome guest speakers from outside of our industry to remind us of why we have chosen to serve our communities’ oral healthcare needs, to remind us of our unique connection to our patients.

This year’s themes were connection, culture, leadership and inclusion. Our guests included author Garry Poole; Jeanne Malnati, an expert on fostering positive and productive workplace cultures; former Disney executive vice president, Lee Cockerell who reinforced our belief in values-driven leadership; and Frank Stephens. Frank is either the most unlikely of heroes, or a predestined leader depending on whom you ask. He is an Olympic athlete, an actor, a screenwriter and an advocate for people with disabilities, including people with Downs Syndrome, people like him. He is an inspiration to be sure, but he is also a spokesperson for people whose voices we may not often hear. Frank puts other people first.

Over the last 6 years, many colleagues have asked me about the financial implications of closing all of our practices for an entire day, wondering, as we continue to grow, if the cost will be too much to bear. My answer is always the same: as we grow, as other doctors join our mission, the benefits will be even more valuable. The truth is that our rally is not about professional training and company cheerleading, it’s about personal development. Putting patients first begins with connecting with team members, with rallying around a purpose, together.

Lee Cockerall asked us: “How do you feel on Sunday afternoon? Are you excited for tomorrow’s work?” As I think about what I want to see in the dental industry of tomorrow, I have never been more excited about my work as a dentist today.

Dr. AJ Acierno is the CEO of DecisionOne Dental and was named one of Chicago Magazine’s Top Dentists in 2018. He is the Team Dentist for the Chicago Wolves Hockey Team and in 2017 gave a TedTalk about how “Healthcare Has Lost Its Soul.” To see highlights from Frank Stephens speech at the DecisionOne Dental rally, CLICK HERE.

Originally published for Efficiency in Group Practice at

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