May 13, 2024

Financial Discipline in Dental Services: The Critical Role of Accounting Policies in DSOs

By Erica Olobri, CPA, MPAC, Partner, Assurance Services

Financial Discipline in Dental Services: The Critical Role of Accounting Policies in DSOs Dental Services

The Dental Service Organization (DSO) space is rapidly expanding, and accounting policies and procedures need to be considered for the growth and reliability of data. DSOs will continue to modify their operations as they grow. Some accounting frameworks can be implemented for these DSOs to maintain consistent financial practices across all their locations to ensure accuracy, compliance, and strategic decision-making. Below, we will explore the critical aspects of implementing an accounting framework and tips for maintaining financial discipline within a DSO.

The Importance of Accounting Policies in DSOs

Accounting policies and procedures act as the financial how-to guide for any organization. The policies and procedures guide how the organization handles financial transactions, reporting requirements, and compliance with regulatory standards. In a DSO, which often operates across multiple locations with varied services, these policies help streamline operations, prevent fraud, and provide transparency to stakeholders, including patients, staff, and investors.

Some of the Key Components of Strong Accounting Policies for DSOs include the following:

  1. Technology Integration: Having quality accounting software and other financial technologies can enhance the accuracy, efficiency, and security of financial information. Technology should be assessed to determine how it can best be leveraged to provide the most effective information for the organization.
  2. Standardized Procedures: A DSO benefits from standardized accounting procedures across all practices. Standardized procedures decrease the risk of errors or information being processed or misreported. This ensures consistency in how financial transactions are recorded and reported, facilitating easier consolidation and analysis.
  3. Internal Controls: Implementing strong internal controls mitigates risks associated with errors and fraudulent activities. This includes segregation of duties, authorization of transactions, and regular audits (compliance and financial).
  4. Revenue Recognition: Given the complexity of dental billing and insurance claims, DSOs need clear policies on revenue recognition that align with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Training staff on billing and insurance claims requirements will decrease the risk of non-payment or processing errors.
  5. Expense Management: Controlling costs is vital for any DSO’s profitability. Policies should cover procurement, payment authorizations, and monitoring of expenses against budgets.
  6. Cash Management: Effective cash management policies help maintain adequate liquidity for operations and investments, which is critical for the DSO’s growth and stability.
  7. Comprehensive Financial Reporting: Creating periodic reports that accurately reflect the financial health of the DSO is crucial. These reports should encompass revenue, expenses, cash flow, and profitability.
  8. Regulatory Compliance: Adhering to industry regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) is non-negotiable. Accounting policies must include measures to ensure full compliance.

Implementation Strategies

  1. Tailored Policies: Design accounting policies and procedures specific to the DSO’s size, complexity, and business model.
  2. Training and Communication: Ensure staff across all locations are adequately trained on the accounting policies and understand their importance. Organizations should set up required training for all staff, which should be regularly reviewed and updated.
  3. Monitoring and Enforcement: Regularly review and update policies and ensure compliance through strict enforcement and disciplinary actions for non-adherence.
  4. External Support: Consider engaging external advisors or auditors to objectively assess the accounting policies and gain insights on best practices.

Having robust accounting policies and procedures is the backbone of any successful DSO. By prioritizing financial accounting policies and procedures, DSOs can navigate the challenges of multi-site operations, safeguard their financial assets, and achieve long-term profitability and growth. With the proper implementation strategies and commitment to continuous improvement, DSOs can set a strong foundation for their financial operations and secure their place as leaders in dental healthcare services.