Boston Uncommon: Unique group practice sets a new standard in New England


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March 2005, Dental Economics
Story by Kevin Henry, Managing Editor, and Garrett Ludwig.
Photos by Clements/Howcroft Bosto

Boston’s Prudential Center is one of the city’s well-known landmarks. Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline is the only dental practice in the building. The practice takes up almost the entire second floor.

The last 18 months have been pretty good for teams in New England. The NFL’s New England Patriots captured back-to-back Super Bowls. The Boston Red Sox finally were able to shake the curse of Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees on their way to their first World Series title in generations. Last March, the Connecticut Huskies men’s and women’s basketball teams captured NCAA championships.

Yes, the northeastern corner of the United States seems to have become Titletown (no offense to our readers in Green Bay). The successful championship runs of all of these squads have three things in common – geographic location, excellence, and an attitude of “team first.”

Dr. Charles Trauring may not look like Tom Brady or David Ortiz, but he and his partner Dr. James Sowles play a pivotal role in another winning team in New England. Housed inside Boston’s landmark Prudential Center and an office in suburban Brookline, Dr. Trauring and Dr. Sowles have built a unique, award-winning practice – Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline.

Over the last 35 years, Drs. Sowles and Trauring have built a unique multi-specialty group practice. Their original vision of this practice’s “team” included restorative dentists working together with outstanding specialists who could provide patients with the best in comprehensive dental care, and the convenience of all the services being available in one location. Now, looking out from the second floor of the Prudential Center, the duo has seen their dream realized… and it’s still growing.

“Currently, the team is comprised of accomplished, recognized leaders in the field, as well as the best and brightest of the next generation,” Dr. Trauring explained. “Each doctor is encouraged to pursue his or his specialty to the fullest, teach at one of our outstanding local dental schools, as well as participate in leading continuing-education seminars.

“When a periodontist, endodontist, and generalist can consult together on a case, whether it is a complex dental implant case to a single tooth, the impact of the joint consultation is very powerful for the doctor but especially for the patient! The patient realizes that the ‘team approach’ is the very best dentistry has to offer!

“Our mission is to maintain our leadership position in the dental community with additional strategic ‘fold-ins’ which will strengthen and enhance our existing team,” he continued.

The “fold-in” concept is a unique aspect of Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline. It is Dr. Trauring’s strong belief that the long-term success of any dental practice (especially a group practice with specialists) rests upon a strong patient base. To ensure their practice continually kept a strong patient base, Drs. Sowles and Trauring began incorporating other offices into their group practice.

“Originally, we started with an approach of acquiring a retiring dentist, with a similar practice base, either retaining the dentist for a number of years through the transition, or just purchasing the patient records,” Dr. Trauring said. “After the practice grew, it was clear we needed some management expertise. When the dentists realized they could benefit from being liberated from a lot of the day-to-day administrative issues and devote most of their time to chairside dentistry, then we were able to recruit existing practices and ‘fold them in to the group.'”

In 1998 alone, Dr. Sowles and Trauring negotiated and completed the merger of three successful “solo” practices – one restorative practice, one perio practice, and one oral surgical practice – with revenues ranging from $600,000-$800,000. In all, 10 practices have been purchased or folded in to make up Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline.

The strategy has worked beautifully for the practice. Currently, the group consists of four restorative dentists, three prosthodontists, three periodontists, two endodontists, one oral surgeon, and one orthodontist (a total of 14 Brookline and Brookline dentists), 14 assistants, and 12 hygienists. In all, a total of 66 staff members service more than 15,000 families.

“Leadership in a solo practice often happens by a sort of osmosis. For example, your staff sees how you treat patients and they follow suit,” said Adrian Wilkins, a team builder and coach employed by Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline. “To create the same type of service in a multi-specialty practice is very different for two reasons. First, your personal impact is diluted because of the number of people involved. Second, you are now not just dealing with staff but also doctors. The sophistication and desire for autonomy is completely different. Leadership goes from being a kind of unconscious automatic thing to something that needs to be much more organized and conscious.”

The patient base numbers may seem almost staggering, but Drs. Sowles and Trauring are looking at even bigger possibilities. As the only dental facility in the Prudential Center, more than 10,000 workers in the facility now have easy access to the office. The accessibility is providing new clients for the practice on an almost daily basis, but it’s a challenge that the office welcomes with proven resources.

“Over the last 30 years, we have used BRS Computing for our dental software package and support,” Dr. Trauring said. “The data has been extremely reliable, and I know BRS cares about the integrity of the system and the data.”

The growth in numbers and team members also has equated into a growth in the number of operatories and needed space. Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline currently has the majority of the Prudential Center’s second floor and has rights of refusal on the additional space, which Dr. Trauring expects to become available in the near future.

It’s been an amazing ride for Dr. Trauring. At age 61, he is able to look at his practice and see a dream realized, and a successful dream at that. In a recent independent “benchmark” dental study conducted by Chicago’s Parkside Associates which included more than 40 group practices across the country, Sowles Trauring Dental Partners of Brookline was ranked as the top practice overall.

“The profession has been very good to me. I feel fortunate that I still look forward to going to work every day and love the variety of “chairside dentistry” and “practice management,” he said. “Clinical dentistry provides me with a great deal of gratification – from the patient interaction to the knowledge that I can still deliver an outstanding personal service. The management side provides me with the opportunity to leverage my vision to create a thriving group practice. I have a truly outstanding team that can provide outstanding care with the support of the management team’s strategic planning, budgeting, acquisitions, and fold-ins.”

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