There are a few best practices to keep in mind when managing dental materials inventory, from purchasing to management.
Keeping organized and well-stocked without blowing your inventory budget takes a few considerations. We contacted some inventory management professionals to discover the best practices for managing dental materials inventory.
Take a Baseline Measurement
Dr Scott Drucker, Co-Founder & President of Supply Clinic, says the basic level, baseline measurement for what the practice has is essential before putting any system in place. This baseline serves as the foundation to record usage over time. Having a feel of the weekly or monthly burn rate on supplies can expose trends, like seasonality, Dr Drucker says.
Some software systems can help with this effort. However, the first and basic step is to measure what's in stock currently so the practice can be on top of what they use and over what period.
R. Kim Bleiweiss MBA, MEd, President and General Manager of Lean Dental Solutions™ and inventor and developer of Grasshopper Mouse™ Inventory Control System, agrees, adding that dental practices often buy too little or too much because they don't know what they have.
Overstocking supplies result in extra expenses tied up in inventory. Since most dentists are bottom-line driven, Bleiweiss says this situation results in the dentist or staff spending valuable time searching for better pricing online rather than other activities with a better return.
"Their time is better spent with patients," Bleiweiss says.
Running short has its problems, too. For example, Bleiweiss explains that when the practice doesn't have what they need, they may have to send a patient home and bring them back another day. Moreover, the dental practice often pays extra for expedited shipping for the missing supplies.
"So, if they don't keep track of that stuff," Bleiweiss says, "if they don't control their inventory, inventories can end up controlling them."
Find Your Cadence
Dan Traub, VP of Product for Method Procurement, says dental practices should stick to a cadence to avoid reordering in panic mode. But, unfortunately, this last-minute approach does not work in today's business environment.
"The haphazard, 'we ran out of this!' or 'we are about to run out of that,' types of unplanned buys are not great in today's supply-chain challenged world," Traub says.
For example, a major floss manufacturer began running critically low on much of their product line recently. Traub says the company was so far behind the demand that they stopped taking backorders. In this situation, not having a proactive ordering cadence would add to the pain of the manufacturer’s shortage, according to Traub.
Dr Drucker agrees that establishing a monthly date for ordering can help systemize inventory management. Setting a date, usually the 1st or 15th, makes ordering a paced and planned event. Dr Drucker explains that a devoted day is better than ordering a few things every other day.
"It allows the person responsible to get in that rhythm. They'll know, 'Hey, we've got to check inventory because our order day is coming up,'" Dr Drucker says.
Traub thinks adding an inventory check into daily or weekly activities should become part of the office's operating system. It can help the team anticipate their needs and optimize their orders. He thinks many practices are not proactive, ordering small batches of items more often. Unfortunately, small orders often don't get the best deals and might have extra charges if they are too small. Making it easy to take care of the practice allows suppliers to optimize pricing for the practice.
"So, it helps everyone involved to be proactive when a practice has that cadence," Traub says.
Have Clear Responsibilities in the Office.
Traub says that having a primary point of responsibility for inventory management increases efficiency. It also makes clear someone needs to take over if that point person is out. Most offices naturally do this designation, Traub says.
"It's important to have a primary playbook," Traub says. "Inventory management should be in there and should have the roles assigned for the tasks. The playbook should include all steps, from ordering through receiving and inspection/putaway."
Traub recommends having a receiving point of responsibility as well. Receipts should be compared to orders, so that unexpected shortages can be addressed.
Invest in Procurement Software Solutions
Dr Drucker says there are now several procurement software solutions on the market. The procurement solutions help with inventory management because dental practices can set budgets, track their usage, and access data to trends. They also track accounts payable.
Some software solutions have an inventory solution baked in, Dr Drucker explains. For example, Supply Clinic has ProSuite, which features many inventory management tools designed to save time.
Dr Drucker says it is not unusual for a dental practice to have one to three different suppliers they work with regularly. Usually, one supplier is their primary consumables distributor; others might be companies that sell products directly, like restorative materials from Bisco and Ultradent, as well as some orthodontic companies.
ProSuite allows the office to order from all those different sellers in the same shopping cart, Dr Drucker explains. Then, the software takes the single cart and submits them to the various sellers. Meanwhile, the practice uses it to pay a single bill and eliminates the need to track all the invoices, match them to the Point of Sale, and then cut checks to the individual vendors.
"It saves a ton of time because the software keeps a running ledger of everything," Dr Drucker says.
In addition, there is data reporting available that includes the frequency of orders placed, breakdown of sellers, and split of wallet share to show where the practice is spending money and how much to each company, he says.
"There's a data visualization dashboard that the office can easily reference, and historical data downloads, also," Dr Drucker says of the system. "So, they can download all their historical orders processed through the platform and use it however they like."
Traub agrees that an inventory management system is essential. It should provide consistent tracking and visibility to your inventory, from ordering through payment.
"Technology like ours is good at showing the situation with each order, regardless of supplier. Information includes the supplier’s processing status, shipment tracking and whether it was received an in acceptable condition," Traub explains about the Method Procurement Platform.
The Method Procurement Platform is a cloud-based software that tracks inventory and alerts the team when stock is low. The platform has a single dashboard that allows teams to manage a stock list, reorder, and update inventory available quantities once the product arrives.
Traub says that while technology streamlines and automates this tracking, analog works, too. For example, a well-run manual tag system can work well to indicate and coordinate when it's time to reorder. However, manual systems do not always have the same access to visibility as a technology solution, nor do they eliminate human error potential.
"Mistakes and inefficiencies in the ordering process add up. So not only did you waste time, and you had to do a return, but you might not be able to treat a patient, which is a real problem," Traub says.
Let Inventory Management System Do The Talking.
Another significant problem, Bleiweiss explained, is that communication between team members can sometimes lead to deficits or over-ordering of materials inventory. He recommends getting an inventory management system that will talk to everyone and let them know what you need and, perhaps more importantly, what you don't.
For example, he remembers the story where a doctor he was working with in California who had to throw out $20,000 worth of impression material that was expired. That happens, Bleiweiss says, when the inventory management system isn't talking to the staff.
Another problem is that everyone is busy and doesn't have time to coordinate, Bleiweiss says. This results in drawers of sticky notes, scribbling on whiteboards, and other methods of communication that are not as efficient for inventory management. It can slow down the process of sorting through the various communication methods, which Bleiweiss says is the last thing a busy practice needs.
"So, any time the team deals with inventory when they could be doing something better, it costs the practice money. But they have to go handle inventory because there isn't another way," Bleiweiss says.
Grasshopper Mouse is a cloud-based online inventory management system. Bleiweiss, who has been in dental for 46 years, says it is the only inventory management system built by dental people from the ground up. It tracks all their activity with their suppliers and what's happening in their in-house inventory.
"We provide something that communicates between the dentists, their staff, and the inventory. So, the inventory is telling them you're running short, or shelf life is to expire," Bleiweiss explains.
Centralize Inventory Storage
The more operatories a dental practice has, the more complicated inventory management can be. Traub says using centralized inventory storage rather than several physical storage places can help. Traub explains that if you have more than one location for your inventory, you have more than one location to watch over, which leads to losing things or missing expiration dates because there are too many moving parts.
"Having as much in the central closet area as you can is the more efficient way to do things," Traub says.
Use Reports to Control Their Budget
Bleiweiss says that practices have often set a budget for their materials, usually around 6% of their growth. However, few dental practices use reports to see if they are on target with their spending goals. Bleiweiss thinks dental practice stakeholders should check their actual spending monthly to stay on budget.
"Practices should generate reports that tell them how much they've spent, how much they have in stock, and their budget status," Bleiweiss says. "All their budget and any number of things should be in those reports so they can look it up anytime."
Incentivize Your Team
Change is challenging, so rewarding the team for enduring it can help. Dr Drucker says incentives that reward ordering efficiency and accuracy are an excellent way to get the crew on board with your inventory management system changes.
For example, the team can get a lunch day for the office to reward keeping track of inventory with the new system. Or maybe there is an incentive the team earns for having a month with no overnight shipping charges on supplies.
"It should be a reward system so everybody's mutually aligned to work towards a certain goal," Dr Drucker says, "and is rewarded for good performance."