The Right Stock: Getting Your Practice to Purchase the Products You Like To Use

When you need a product to deliver excellent patient care, we share strategies to convince practice stakeholders to get you the right stock.

Convincing a practice stakeholder to get you what you want in the dental practice is a skill. It comes naturally to some people, but for others, it can be a daunting task.

Today we look at how and when to ask to convince them to say yes. We also discuss what to do to keep the conversation going after you hear a no and which products you should invest in for your career if the practice won't.

Asking for the Right Stock the Right Way

Katrina Sanders, RDH, a practicing dental hygienist and dental hygiene educator, says that dentists, as business owners, are already scanning for nice-to-have vs. need-to-have when it comes to products and equipment for the hygiene team. However, if your request falls into the nice-to-have category and you need to have it, there are things you should and shouldn't do to get the dentist or other practice stakeholder on board.

It starts with timing, Sanders explains. Sanders recommends starting the conversation by asking for 15 to 20 minutes of the dentist's time, explaining that you want to talk to the dentist about a change that will improve the level of care you provide.

Sharon Burns, RDH, has been working in dental her entire adult life. With 34 years in the hygiene business, she agrees timing your request is essential. The best "when" depends on how the practice runs.

"When I am asking my boss for something, I never sandwich it in between appointments. I want his undivided attention, and I want to talk to him behind closed doors. So let's make time for this conversation and not have a quick, 'Oh, by the way…' kind of thing," Burns says.

Once you have the appointment, Sanders says that it is essential to come in with your numbers. The numbers should include the cost of the product or equipment, the expected return on investment (ROI), and the CDT code that you will use to bill for the service, among other things. These data points help the stakeholder justify moving your desired stock into the need-to-have column. 

Sanders encourages hygienists to think about this conversation as an investment pitch. She also suggests watching Shark Tank and imitating how the business owners propose things to the sharks.

"If they are investing in whatever this is, they want to know that they're investing in something worthy," Sanders says of the practice stakeholder.

For example, when Sanders wanted a laser, she used the practice management software to discover how many patients she saw in the previous month could benefit from one. Showing the missed patient care and billing opportunities worked. Moreover, her success with the laser therapy investment made it easier for Sanders to convince the dentist to invest in the transillumination oral cancer screening technology she wanted next.

"After a while, we had a great symbiotic relationship," Sanders says. "But it did take establishing that initial trust where I had to come in with a knowledge base and speak about it as if dental hygiene was my business and that I was creating opportunities for him to invest in my business."

"One of the biggest recommendations I have is to go prepared," dental speaker, writer, and educator Jamie Collins, BS, RDH-EA, agrees. "If you go and say, 'I want this,' and don't have the reasoning to back it up, it's going to be a harder sell to that stakeholder. So, go prepared as to why you want it and why it is needed."

"Honesty is the best policy," Burns agrees. "Be direct, state your case, and get right to the point. Tell them what you need and why you need it."

Collins is the Senior Client Success Manager and professional education manager for Mouthwatch, LLC, specializing in teledentistry solutions, digital case presentation tools, and intraoral imaging devices. She says if a hygienist wants an intraoral camera, explaining how it benefits patient compliance, education, and treatment acceptance sells the idea to practice stakeholders. Also, Collins says, if the recommended preventative treatment is using a high-fluoride, prescription-strength toothpaste, the "why" for stocking it is that patients are more likely to comply when they leave the practice with the product versus going with a prescription.

"Plus, we can resell that product at a slight profit for the practice. So, it would help if you had that reasoning and that why prepared when you go in to ask," Collins says.

Burns says that when you are straightforward with the practice owner, they tend to make quick decisions. For example, she told her dentist that the foot pedal was not working and driving her crazy. He had the repairman there within an hour. If she needed new instruments, she would explain her concerns to the dentist about safety and efficiency. Whatever the reason, she would give that upfront.

Burns says. "No one's ever accused me of mincing words," Burns says. "State your case and then state examples why."

Investing In The Right Stock for Yourself

There are some things that hygienists should purchase for themselves, even if the practice won't pay for it. For example, Sanders believes ergonomic equipment like loupes and saddle stools are essential to a hygienists' career longevity. In addition, the money invested can save wear and tear on their body in daily practice.

"Make sure that your ergonomics are on point. For example: investing in an ergonomics coach can add to the longevity of your career and your livelihood," Sanders says. "When it comes to providing patient care, you should always preserve your body."

Sanders also paid her hygiene assistant salary out of her compensation. However, before she hired the assistant, Sanders ensured there was no cap on her production. 

"My assistant paid for himself with the production I was able to optimize," Sanders says. "I invested in my clinical career in that way. Hygienists need to consider that perhaps an action like this could send a message to the right doctor or practice that you take your hygiene column so seriously that you treat it as though it is your own business."

Collins shares Sanders' view that ergonomic equipment is essential. When she had hip pain, she invested in a saddle stool for herself, and the quality it provided her working life was worth every penny.

"You're protecting your investment in your career and protecting your overall health," Collins agrees. "Because the cost of missing work and the cost of treating it once you have a problem is so much more."

Another investment Collins thinks is worth it for hygienists is a loupe with a light. It will reduce eye and shoulder strain, but the personal light will follow the line of vision, making it much easier to see. Moreover, when you buy these things yourself, you can take them with you when you change practices, Collins says.

"It's investing in yourself, your career, and your health, especially if you practice for any period of time," Collins says. "Seventy percent of dental workers have musculoskeletal issues. So we want to be able to protect ourselves."

"You can nip any neck and shoulder problems in the bud, all the things that people acquire as they get older and work in dentistry," Burns agrees about loupes, adding that loupes can also improve the care you provide. "If you can't see it, you can't treat it. So, without loupe magnification and an excellent headlight, you are only doing half the job."

Burns says that investing in yourself doesn't mean you have to get the Cadillac version of the ergonomic equipment. For example, she used the same loupes for 20 years, replacing them last year for around $2,000. The same goes for stools or chairs.

"There are a lot of different companies out there that have really good base products," Burns says. "Let's face it; this is what we do all day long. You're in a posture where you need to be comfortable as you can be and not contort all day."

 Staying on the Right Side of No

Pleasant persistence can be helpful when you first encounter a "no" from the practice stakeholder for the products or equipment you want. One expert that you can lean on for guidance, Sanders says, is the manufacturer's rep or account manager, who knows how to deal with objections.

"Another thing I would do is ask the doctor, 'Is there anything they would like to see in my hygiene performance over the next 90 days that could then make this something we could revisit?'" Sanders says.

Sanders also thinks hygienists could take a page from the treatment acceptance book and apply it to the practice stakeholder. If a patient can't get the treatment they want for financial reasons, she says, the practice will find a way to make it work. If it is something small, ask if you can start with a smaller budget first to see how it goes. Also, more significant equipment with a higher price tag might include a trial period, so you have a chance to try before you buy.

"There's always a way to get creative about it," Sanders says.

The trial period often proves that equipment has a benefit to a dental practice. For example, Burns is currently trying out OraPharma's MyPerioHealth app, an interactive oral health educational tool. Burns thinks that MyPerioHealth streamlines the diagnosis time to a period classification, which is an involved process and can be complicated for new hygienists. However, after using it, she sees the value.

"For someone just starting in the field, it's a nice guide, a segue into making a diagnosis, explaining it to the patient, and giving them the tools they need to explain the disease state the patient may have," Burns says. "So, we like it. We have been enjoying it."

Collins suggests asking for a budget rather than an open-ended expense might be more appealing. Also, measuring whether the product is making a difference in a patient's oral health can help. In addition, Collins thinks getting a few of the products you want in inventory and following the results to see an improvement in patients' oral care can help get your request approved.

"You want to show validation that what you are doing is the right decision. When they can see that, the stakeholder will have a harder time telling you no in the future," Collins says.

Burns says it is also important to realize that none of us gets everything we ask for all the time. The practice owner has a budget, and they need to stick to it. It's essential to consider whether the practice can afford to add into inventory the product or equipment you need, Burns says. Moreover, after the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced shutdowns of dental offices in 2020, dentists have been the last to recover.

"One needs to be aware of certain things like what the cash flow is like or if the dentist has been busy. Is your schedule busy, or are you looking at cancellations? Is the practice doing well?" Burns explains. "It could be that they just can't do it now, so revisit it in 90 days and set aside time to have that conversation again."

Burns says that timing can also mean waiting until the end of the fiscal year. Often, practices need to spend money on equipment and product for tax reasons by this deadline, so they are looking to buy things. For her part, Burns is pushing for a paperless practice management system and her dedicated sensor.

"It's a perfect time to get your wish list together," Burns says. "Why not let the dentist buy something that would benefit the hygienist?"

However, if getting turned down for the things you need is something that happens a lot, Sanders says you might want to consider whether it is the practice for you.

"Is this the place for you, a place for you to grow as a clinician and call your dental home?" Sanders says. "Or do you think perhaps your practice philosophy may better align with another practice that believes in the same things you do?" 

"If someone routinely tells you no, no, no," Burns agrees, "then I would take a hard look about whether this is really where I want to be?"

Sanders also says that it is rare that a doctor or practice owner wants to make the hygienists' time more difficult. Instead, they say no because they have a concern about it.

"If you can identify what that concern is," Sanders says, "then you can help them move forward."

Burns agrees, adding that a dental practice is a team effort, and everything goes better when everybody's happy and working together. So, be a part of the team and come ready to resolve challenges when asking for the right stock.

"Know your numbers and know your solution to the problem," Burns says. "No one likes a whiner and a complainer. Go to your boss with your suggestion and say, 'Hey, look. This solution is how we could make the practice better.