Orthodontists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they usually don’t get many opportunities to see what it’s like inside another doctor’s office. Orthotown magazine’s recurring Office Visit profile offers a chance for Townies to meet their peers, hear their stories and get a sense of their practice protocols.
In this issue, we visit Dr. Jason Hartman, a Pennsylvania orthodontist and Townie with 10 practices and counting, many known for their impeccable design. Read on to learn how Hartman successfully manages these beautiful practices and how he got to where he is today.
What was the path you took
to becoming an orthodontist?
From the time I was about 11 or 12, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I had an amazing pediatrician and wanted to be just like him—he had a great bedside manner, and was friendly and refreshingly funny. During college, my good friend was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lost his battle with the disease in about a year. His passing was the beginning of my uncertainty that medicine would be the right career path for me. I took the MCAT and did everything I needed to do for medical school, but decided to take a year off after college. During that year, I worked for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, as a chemist in its quality control lab. I used my vacation days to shadow different doctors, dentists and specialists and I decided that dentistry—more specifically, orthodontics—was my passion and calling. I knew I still wanted to work mostly with kids; I just wanted to be the doctor they looked forward to going to visit, and not the doctor with the needles.
How did you start your practice? What was the layout, and what
was the workflow like?
I bought my first practice in 2010 from an 80-year-old doctor who was getting ready to retire. It was an eight-chair practice that saw well over 110 patients a day, three days per week. It had an analog X-ray unit and darkroom, a waiting room that could comfortably seat about 17 people and decor from circa 1982.
Within the first year, we gave it a makeover, updated the interior design, put in digital X-rays and electronic charting, and made a go of it. The plan was to make that space work for three or four years until I could build a new office in a better part of town and a more highly visible location.
What’s something you do
vastly different from when you began practicing?
I think that the most different concept for me in practice today, versus when I was first out of residency, is that in my earlier years I was always the one rendering care chairside. Today, and for the past few years, my time is spent focused on the business and less in the business. I have undertaken more of a CEO role as well as chief clinical officer role, training our doctors and team, and helping with the marketing side of the business.
I spend my time helping to onboard new practices, often working in the practice to help transition to our clinical technique, helping to get overtime patients debonded, working with our transition team to ensure acquired employees have all the training they need to grow with our practice, working directly with real estate agents to determine the next great location to expand the practice, and working with contractors on the six remodels or relocations we are undertaking in 2018, just to name a few.
Now you own 10 practices, with plans to keep expanding. How do you successfully manage them all?
Our growth seems to have happened in waves. We grew from one location to three in 2012; one was de novo and the other an acquisition. The next few years were spent improving systems, maximizing our scheduling templates, playing with marketing messages and learning how to bring the best customer service in an environment where an owner doctor could not be in each office each day. We opened our fourth office, de novo, at the end of 2015 and then acquired two more office locations just three months later.
We learned how to run a local call center, centralize billing, and improve our rotations of doctors and the support team during that next year, so by early 2017 we decided that we could acquire more locations and utilize our systems in a “plug-and-play” manner to quickly improve each acquisition’s marketing, efficiency, production and collections.
In 2017, we acquired five more locations, for a total of 10 locations. We are constantly monitoring the statistics of our locations, improving the way we do things to maximize patient experience in our office. Patient experience is one of the main reasons for our success over the past eight years.
What is your patient treatment philosophy?
It’s pretty simple: Treat each patient like family. Listen to what they want; tell them the truth; give them multiple options, when available, and help them decide which works best for them; empathize with their situation; never pressure anyone; and make treatment affordable and fun.
What do you do to help set
the practices apart from others?
Our office environment and patient experience has been the main way we have differentiated Spark from other practices. We focus on making our practices inviting with a bright, modern decor. We also tend to be early adopters of new technologies such as CBCT and intraoral scanners, as well as offering additional services such as oral surgery in several of our ortho locations.
What are your favorite marketing techniques? How do you get the word out about your practices?
Even though we’re a multilocation practice that draws patients from a 150-mile diameter circle, when it comes to marketing I still like community events best. Most communities don’t realize that we serve such a large area, so it’s important for us to get face time within each community that we serve.
We’ve done pretty much every type of marketing—from radio and television to direct mailers, PPC, print media, billboards, etc. We’ve had success in all of those arenas, but we’ve also had many that did not work well. Most importantly, though, it’s taken us some time to get our tracking of these marketing efforts to a level that I feel very good about. Reliable tracking allows us to prevent throwing good money into campaigns that aren’t working well.
We’re constantly asking our new patients to check off all the ways they’ve heard or seen Spark marketing. Additionally, it’s imperative that the message you use is specific to the audience you’re trying to attract, and the media used to deliver that message needs to be the best way to reach that target audience. With the big data that is available today, there is no reason that we should not be more specific with our marketing efforts.
Lastly, there is no “silver bullet” of marketing that brings in all the patients. Most patients tell us they have heard about us through multiple marketing efforts, word of mouth, etc. In this ad-littered world we live in, you need multiple touches before most people will even call you, let alone give you the opportunity to serve them.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the ortho profession? Is this a challenge you’ve experienced?
I believe the biggest challenge is the commoditization of our services. Between general dentists doing orthodontics in-house and undercutting fees, mail-order orthodontic aligner services undercutting fees and our own colleagues undercutting fees, we’re facing the proverbial “race to the bottom.” Unless one practices in a very small town with no other orthodontists, I would imagine that most of us have felt some level of fee pressure over the past five years. I believe that this will likely become even more complicated as the residents graduating from orthodontic residency continue to graduate with higher and higher levels of debt.
What advice would you give
a new doc entering the field and starting a practice?
I’d recommend working as an associate before opening your own practice. You have the rest of your working life to start your own practice, and it would be greatly beneficial for you to gain some clinical experience, as well as see how successful practices are run. Find a mentor who can help you grow as a clinician and is willing to answer your questions about business. Ask a lot of questions and learn as much as you can about the systems that make that practice thrive.
Tell us about your life
outside of practice.
I am married to the woman of my dreams, Kirby, and she has given me four handsome little boys: Mason, Levi, Paci and Kyan. Mason and Levi are 5-year-old twins, Paci is 4 years old and Kyan is 3 years old. The boys are getting into soccer, tennis, swimming and skiing, so we’ve been busy lately running them around to practices and lessons, and I can only imagine that’s going to get crazier as time goes on. We love spending time with family and friends by the pool on the weekends, and I try to get in an occasional round of golf when I can squeeze it in. We are very blessed to have each other and a supportive, tightknit extended family unit.
What can you not practice without?
I cannot practice without my amazing team at Spark. I depend on them each and every day to help me drive the practice in the right direction and to execute my vision. It’s been an amazing journey thus far watching many of them grow into leadership roles and help bring out the best in the other team members that report to them. I’m so proud of what this team has accomplished and look forward to watching what we will accomplish in the future.
Describe the most successful or rewarding experience in your professional life.
The most rewarding part of my professional life involves giving back to others. Nothing feels better than gifting free treatment, or writing off the balance for a family that is in the midst of a hardship. I think that it’s our responsibility to be grateful for what we have and to find ways to make the lives of others better.