By Lori Sichtermann | Photography by Marty Desilets


To consider his personal and professional resume, Jason M. Hartman, DMD, MS, is the portrait of someone who seems to have all the right answers. He was an athletic All-American in high school, an award-winning scholar in college, and has proven to be a skilled orthodontist and a successful business owner.

In just a handful of years, Hartman was able to create a welcoming and state-of-the-art orthodontic environment for his patients in the Philadelphia area. More impressive is his ability to operate his practice and expand his business as severe economic turmoil gripped the country.

Practice Profile: Spark Orthodontics
Location(s): Bethlehem, Pa; Reading, Pa; and Schuylkill Haven, Pa

Office square footage: Bethlehem—new construction 6,500 square feet; Reading—5,400 square feet; Schuylkill Haven—2,500 square feet

Number of chairs: Bethlehem, 9; Reading, 7; Schuylkill Haven, 6

Years in practice: 5 total, 3+ owning his own practices

Education: DMD, Summa Cum Laude, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia; Residency, Lehigh Valley Hospital, Muhlenberg; GPR Certificate, Bethlehem, Pa; MS and Certificate in Orthodontics, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine

Average patients per day: 85 to 110

Starts per year: 625 to 650

Days worked per week: 4

Top 5 products: Invisalign/Invisalign Teen; 3M Transbond PLUS Color Change Adhesive; Ormco Lythos Scanner; Dentaurum Tomas TAD System; Zila NV MicroLaser

His keen business skills and passion for the profession makes it seem as if Hartman was called to orthodontics from the proverbial get-go. However, his career path up to this point is rooted in tragedy, confusion, and a whole lot of soul searching. Ultimately, it was his love of science, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his desire to make a difference in the lives of young people that—eventually—led him to the field.

“I had a wonderful pediatrician as a child and always thought that with my love for the sciences and inquisitive nature, pediatric medicine would be a great fit for me,” Hartman explains.

Out to change the world one pediatric patient at a time, Hartman enrolled at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa, where he majored in biology and chemistry and started on the pre-med tract. Near the end of his sophomore year, however, tragedy struck. Hartman’s close high school friend and tennis doubles partner died after a year-long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “I wasn’t sure that I could embrace the medical profession after it had let me down, and I started to begin questioning if I wanted to go to medical school after college,” Hartman recalls.

Although distraught and unsure about his future, Hartman pushed through and graduated (Magna Cum Laude) and proceeded to take his MCATs anyway. “After college, I took a year off to work and ‘find myself,’?” he adds.

During that year, Hartman worked as an analytical chemist for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures Tylenol and Motrin products. While he enjoyed his chemistry work, Hartman never quite lost the lure of pediatric medicine. Thus, he made a few inquires to physicians in the Philadelphia area and asked for their help and guidance. “In my free time, I shadowed every physician, dentist, and specialist who would let me visit his or her office,” he notes.

As Hartman recalls, it didn’t take long for him to realize that most of the physicians he observed were, as he says, unhappy and overly concerned about managed healthcare. Conversely, in his opinion, the dentists he worked with seemed more content with their professions and optimistic about their work and the future of their field.

“So I decided to go to dental school instead of medical school,” Hartman says. “I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t want to be the doctor giving the injections or be the one the kids feared. That left one logical option for me to work predominantly with kids: orthodontics.”

Hartman took a don’t-look-back approach as he made the decision to leave analytical chemistry and enter dental school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia. Before long, he received his degree and graduated at the top of his class. Now it was time for the next chapter: orthodontic training.

The Impressionable Observer

After an orthodontic residency at Columbia University, Hartman decided the best way to get to know the industry was to dive in headfirst. In fact, for 2 years he worked as an associate orthodontist in four different practices in New York and northern New Jersey. The doctors, their techniques, and the way they ran their businesses varied tremendously, but as Hartman explains, he learned as much as he could from those physicians—for better or worse.

“I got to see what worked and what didn’t, and I was able to borrow the best practices from each office,” he adds. “Although they were all great physicians, some practices were more efficient with how they got their patients from point A to point B. That’s what really stood out for me.”

Hartman had learned (and saved) enough by 2009 that he was ready to start out on his own. He found a practice in Bethlehem, Pa, that seemed perfect. The business was right geographically—near where he and his family lived—and had little to no saturation in the area. So, he approached the owner and soon entered into the negotiation stage of purchasing the practice.

“It took 7 months of negotiating, but in January 2010 we had a 100% buy-out transition, in which the selling doctor stayed on as an employee for an additional 8 months to complete the transition,” he recalls. “When we had complete ownership, we slightly modified the name of the practice but stayed with the geographically oriented name of Bethlehem Orthodontics.”

At the helm of his own business for the first time, Hartman called upon much of what he learned from working as an associate in other practices. While patient care was the top priority, Hartman also identified areas of inefficiency that, if remedied, could improve the overall business. For example, the time allotment for patient appointments was an area that needed adjustment.

Through his observations working as an associate, Hartman made note of the practices that allotted 15 minutes for patient viewings and those that allotted 10 minutes. “When I bought my first practice, it was running on 15-minute schedules. That was the first thing we changed,” Hartman explains. “For a lot of appointments, you don’t need 15 minutes, or two fifteen-minute slots for a 30-minute appointment.

“You typically only need 10 minutes per appointment, and two 10-minute slots for the average normal observation appointment. I’ve read studies that estimate an average of ?13 days a year can be saved by switching from 15- to 10-minute appointment times.”

A relatively simple fix, Hartman was able to streamline the business without sacrificing patient care. In fact, the new, more efficient model seemed to resonate with patients and staff. As he explains, in that first year of taking over the Bethlehem office, Hartman saw a 15% increase in profitability.

“We had the same staff working in the same office, without any renovation, so the only real difference in the equation was me and the process changes I brought in,” Hartman notes. “That gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I was doing some things right. The patients were happy, the staff was happy, and I started getting more and more referrals from area dentists.”

hartman2Hartman’s second practice, opened in 2012 in Reading, Pa. In 2012, Hartman opened a second practice “from scratch,” as he calls it, in his hometown of Reading, Pa. Only months later, he bought a third practice from a doctor who was nearing retirement in Schuylkill Haven, Pa.

The timing of Hartman’s business expansions is noteworthy. He bought his first practice in 2009—while the nation’s economy was still reeling after the swift economic downturn that struck 1 year prior. By the time 2012 rolled around, and he had built the second location, the economy had revitalized somewhat, but businesses nationwide were still being conservative with spending. Yet, Hartman was able to expand and purchase yet one more location.

It’s an interesting contradiction of concepts, but Hartman made it all work. He was able to take advantage of a sour situation (economy-wise) and benefit his practice. “I just kept my eyes and ears open and implemented elements that I thought would work great in our hands and provide a better experience for our patients,” he explains. “And, for us, the economic downturn was the ideal time to expand. Real estate was as low as it was going to be, and financing was as low as it was going to be. So, I thought do it now instead of waiting for the numbers to go back up. Don’t be afraid of the risk. It was more advantageous than to wait.”

The Innovator

Hartman4With the decision to cut appoinment slots from 15 minutes to 10, Hartman was able to streamline his business without sacrificing patient care. It was pediatric medicine that led Hartman to the orthodontic profession years ago. Thus, when asked what are some of his favorite aspects about being an orthodontist today, he’s quick and confident with his reply: “I love hanging out with the kids all day.”

Although a healthy number of his client base consists of adults, it’s the younger set that makes it all worthwhile for Hartman. “They have such a unique perspective on how the world works,” he notes. “Especially with the adolescent group—those are the kids who are the most impressionable. They’re going through so much in life, socially and fundamentally—and to be able to watch their self-esteem change as they go through treatment, it’s a heartwarming experience for orthodontists.”

While he enjoys the interaction with patients, Hartman also runs double-duty as a business owner. And, as any business owner knows, there is no business unless people walk through the door. He understands this concept keenly and has taken some unique steps toward creating what he calls “the smile experience” at all three of his offices.

“Nowadays it’s not enough to simply straighten teeth and correct malocclusions,” he explains. “The end result of our work is certainly important, and it’s what we take pride in. However, our patients, parents, and their friends judge us on the experience of being at our office.”

To make the experience the best it can be, a number of specialty touches are woven into the daily operations of Hartman’s three practices. He’s designed it so that from the minute a patient does walk though the door, he or she feels catered to, similar to a high-end hotel or gourmet restaurant, Hartman notes.

The front desk at all three offices operates more as a high-tech concierge than a typical administrative landing pad. Due to efficiencies in patient scheduling, Hartman’s front-end staff knows exactly who is walking through the door every time it opens. Existing patients electronically check themselves in for appointments while new patients are given an informative tour of the office upon their arrival.

Currently, Hartman is working to establish a call center for his three practices, which will add to the efficiencies that have been hardwired throughout the business. “Our goal is to have a staff member always there, ready to help patients and their families—our guests—from the minute they walk in the door,” he explains. “It’s an unapproachable situation when a staff member is seated behind a desk with her head behind a computer screen. That’s not the message we want to send.”

Instead, the message that’s conveyed at Hartman’s three offices is one of fun mixed with professionalism mixed with tech-savvy. “We make sure that what we offer our patients aligns well with them personally and professionally,” he explains. ” We actually survey our patients to find out what we’re doing right and what we can improve on. And, from there, we actually put effort into evolving.”

The Visionary

Hartman5Construction is currently under way on a new 6,500-square-foot Bethlehem office, which is set to open in early 2014.The trio of offices overseen by Hartman is in a constant state of evolution as he and his staff work to provide the best orthodontic care within the best possible environment. And, while they’ve been successful at what they do, their work is far from over. Hartman is in the process of rebranding the business, which will further streamline the daily operations.

“All three of the practices had separate names depending on the geographic location,” Hartman says. “But, just this October, we merged all three under one name: Spark Orthodontics.”

Hartman knew when rebranding his business that a lot rides on a company’s name. It needs to be approachable and fitting for the clientele while also appropriate for the business within. Taking a page from the playbooks of high-end restaurants, which employ chic, one-word titles, Hartman had a direction, but not an exact title. That is, until inspiration hit.

“My grandfather’s nickname is Sparky,” Hartman says. “He’s a brilliant entrepreneur and a self-proclaimed workaholic. I have a lot of respect for him, so I decided to call the practice Spark after my grandfather.”

A lot is in store for Spark Orthodontics as 2013 rounds to a close. The next year is set to bring exciting changes for the practice. At the top of the list is the move to the newly constructed Bethlehem office. When completed (in early 2014), Hartman and his staff will operate out of the new 6,500-square-foot facility. In this modern space, Hartman also plans to implement oral surgery into the practice’s offerings.

“We don’t plan to extract unless in cases where it’s absolutely necessary, but for molar extractions or wisdom teeth extraction, we currently send patients to an oral surgeon.” Hartman explains. “It just makes sense to have that type of service available to our patients. Orthodontics and oral surgery is a great marriage.”

In addition to adding extra services, Spark Orthodontics expects to add extra offices. Hartman notes that he’s in the process of opening two new offices, reaching a total of five offices within the next year and a half to 3 years.

With three successful practices, it seems Hartman has found the key to success for his business. Recalling his time of professional uncertainty after graduating from college, and how the temperament of those he shadowed varied depending on career choices, Hartman is definitely filling the role of the excited and enthusiastic physician.

“I really love the business side of it. They don’t teach you that in school, so you have to be aggressive and learn from others,” he says. “I haven’t had a single regret about that year I took off. It redirected my life toward a wonderful career.” OP

Lori Sichtermann is the associate editor of Orthodontic Products. She can be reached at [email protected].


Hartman3A Win-Win Situation

Creativity and business savvy abound at Spark Orthodontics. From the modern technology employed for patient treatment, to the manner in which patients are attended to, the Spark offices take pride in their efforts to provide the best experience possible.

One unique element of the experience is the Patient Rewards Program—an incentive-based program for patients that was implemented into the three offices in February 2011.

“Our Spark Smile Rewards card from Practice Genius rewards patients for good behaviors, such as good brushing, no broken brackets, to paying it forward with community service hours,” explains Jason M. Hartman, DMD, MS, owner of Spark Orthodontics.

Per the program, patients also gain points for efficiencies, such as showing up to their appointment on time, brushing before the appointment, and wearing their rubber bands as instructed. Points can then be redeemed for a host of gift cards to retailers, such as Target, Best Buy, Foot Locker, and GameStop.

“It’s in our best interest to reward our patients for things they’re doing right when it comes to their participation in the treatment process,” Hartman notes. “All these things add up. If they get to the appointment on time, then we can see them on time and the whole process moves smoothly. The by-product is that we are able to be more efficient with treatment.”

Since the reward program was introduced nearly 3 years ago, Hartman and his staff have noticed a significant improvement in patient compliance. The prospect of a reward has motivated many of the younger patients to stay on top of their treatment management, which has resulted in faster finishes, and for the business, it has increased profitability.