3 min read May 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, President and CEO of Delta Dental of New Jersey and Connecticut Dennis Wilson talked about permanent changes and accelerations that have happened in dental benefits and overall dentistry as a result of the pandemic. Wilson also discussed challenges such as the labor shortages, how they go about attracting and retaining talent, and the continuous investment in technology and cyber security to protect critical and private information. Wilson also shared his top priorities moving forward and thoughts on the future of the dental industry in New Jersey.
What have been some significant achievements and milestones over the past year?
It has been a daunting past two years as New Jersey tries to reopen and confronts economic pressures compounded by an acute labor shortage across many industries. There is immense stress on the overall healthcare system and, more specifically, pressure on dental practices with clinical staffing including hygienists and dental assistants.
What the last year has taught us is the value of technology and the critical nature of the major investments Delta Dental has made prior to and during the pandemic. Those investments enabled us to rapidly move forward with near 100% virtual connectivity at the very beginning of the pandemic. Regarding cybersecurity, the expense is off the charts for the related technology and insurance. However, these costs are clearly essential given the importance and sensitivity of the information we must protect. Delta Dental has been able to function securely and effectively over the past year. This is a testament to our resiliency and commitment to our customers
Delta Dental holds the advantage of being a nimble mid-sized company with revenue of over $700 million and roughly 300 employees. These assets allow us to move quickly from ideation to realization while possessing the resources and gravitas which come with being a part of a national and seamless system of Delta Dental Member Companies.
How does demand for your services today compare to pre-pandemic levels?
We have seen the demand for our services in all of our market segments spike. Because of the competition for talented labor, offering comprehensive benefits backed by high quality brand names such as Delta Dental has become paramount to New Jersey companies.
What strategies are you implementing to attract and retain talent?
We have been relatively fortunate to not have been hit as hard as some industries like retail and hospitality. Delta Dental has historically been consistently successful in attracting and retaining outstanding associates. We are a great company to work with and for. We offer fair compensation and excellent benefits along with the things this generation of employees view as important. These include opportunities to volunteer throughout all the communities we serve. We encourage and reward employees who take advantage of those opportunities to give back. Delta Dental is a fluid, hybrid organization. This has been key in attracting and retaining talent.
Being only a virtual organization is detrimental to culture and connectivity. You lose that sense of belonging which can help define a culture. Our hybrid model prioritizes our customers’ needs and allows us to be fluid and adaptable while keeping our employees safe.
What are some of the main challenges facing the industry in New Jersey?
Burnout and stress is a very concerning challenge. It is apparent in dentistry but you can say the same thing applies across the entire healthcare spectrum. There is pressure to keep key clinical positions intact and functioning effectively. Before COVID there was already an issue in terms of finding and keeping hygienists and dental assistants. Today, the entire healthcare system is under even greater stress. It is not only a staffing challenge but it is about the impacts to quality of care and patient safety which ultimately will be jeopardized if we don’t rise up to meet those challenges at every level.
What innovations have been implemented recently to improve the quality of care and cost?
It is extremely important that oral health is considered integral to overall health. There are several conditions and diseases that can be identified by a simple dental examination, such as various forms of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea and many others. Delta Dental’s focus is oral health and dental benefits. We are acutely interested in the inclusion of dentistry as it relates to being a key part of that “patient-centered medical neighborhood.” Because our priority is dental, we’ve meaningfully advanced the position of dentistry in that regard.
You hear much about telemedicine as an extension or proxy for primary care and link to the broader healthcare system. Teledentistry has also accelerated. Teledentistry allows for easy and convenient access to a dentist who can do a virtual examination and consultation. Teledentistry can also help ease the stress and anxiety sometimes associated with a live visit.
What is your outlook for the dental industry in the next two to three years?
With technology as our springboard, we are further penetrating market segments which we historically were not in. Delta Dental has traditionally served Fortune 1000 companies, large regional employers, along with school boards and municipalities. Today, we own a large market share in those segments, but we also have made significant progress in the mid-size and small business markets. Delta Dental has also accelerated our sales directly to individuals including those who access Get Covered NJ to purchase dental benefits, sole proprietors, retirees and others who are not eligible for benefits through an employer-sponsored plan.
The state of dentistry in general will change significantly. There is rapid movement toward consolidation. Many smaller dental practices will merge with other dentists to become more substantial entities, or will be acquired by well capitalized Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) to be consolidated into significantly larger regional entities. This trend is similar to that experienced by private physician practices over the past several years.
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