What you need to know about buying dental products through a secondary marketplace

January 25, 2014

Let’s face it … we all like a good deal. If we didn’t, Black Friday wouldn’t have become part of the holiday tradition of so many American households.

 

Dentists like good deals as well and are always looking for a way to save a few dollars in their practice. A recent cost-saving trend has seen dentists going online to find cheaper pieces of equipment for their practice on secondary marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.com when items are often resold for a much lower price. It’s a trend that Jim Aycock, director of marketing and business development for Midmark, has been keeping a close eye upon. I recently talked to him about that trend and the red flags he is seeing.

 

Henry: What are you seeing when it comes to dental products being sold in secondary marketplaces?

Aycock: There are really two things we see in a secondary marketplace like eBay or Amazon. The first are legitimate products that are built by recognized manufacturers and those products are being resold outside of the approved dealer network. The second are devices that are coming in from overseas and not FDA-approved. These are pieces of equipment and materials that are not being tested by anyone, and then being put into use in a clinic with some impact to patient care and the safety of all. That’s very concerning to me.

 

When it’s our products being resold, one of my biggest concerns is if the buyer will be familiar with the proper use and operation of the device. This is important so that patient safety is not compromised. For many pieces of equipment and materials, it could literally be the difference between life and death for a patient and/or staff members.

 

Our caution to clinicians is to remember, when you buy something through a secondary marketplace, there’s nothing a manufacturer can do when something goes wrong. Things may be great for 90 days or so, but on that day when something breaks or there is a failure, our hands and the dealers’ hands are tied because we and/or our authorized dealers weren’t involved in the transaction. The correct course of action goes back through the company that actually filled the order for the doctor.

 

Henry: What can you and Midmark do about secondary marketplace sales?

Aycock: We have spent many hours researching and working with counsel to find solutions. There is a limit. From the standpoint of someone reselling one of our products, they can’t use any of our photos or copyrighted materials such as descriptive wording we have in flyers, collateral, or ads. They also can’t make a misleading statement about our product. If they want to use their own photos and their wording, there’s not much we can do. The FDA does have a standard if in a transaction for a controlled device like a handpiece, laser, sterilizer, or implant in that the buyer and seller both must comply with FDA standards. For instance, a dental dealer and a dentist are both running businesses that have been given the green light by the FDA for these transactions. However, those checks aren’t in place at eBay or other online marketplaces. I’ve had conversations with eBay, and they have been very active and responsive to our concerns. As an online marketplace, they push the transaction responsibility to the seller and the buyer. They are not auditing any activities to confirm they are compliant with the correct standards or approved to sell the products advertised. Any violations of any kind need to be brought to the attention of eBay or the online marketplace.

 

 

The biggest problem, in my view, is all of the non-FDA approved products coming in from overseas. The FDA simply doesn’t have the resources to follow up on something that is questionable on every secondary or online marketplace out there. There’s certainly an interest to keep things like this from happening, but the resources simply aren’t being used to find these products that might be dangerous to patients and staff members in the office. Working directly with eBay, we have had more than 100 devices removed from their site because they were not FDA-approved. It is shocking to think how many of these products have slipped through the cracks.

 

Henry: What if a dentist sees an offer out there at a price that seems almost too good to be true?

Aycock: Chances are, it is. Have a conversation with your sales rep who comes into your office and ask him or her why the price online is so much lower than what he or she is offering. There is likely a good explanation. The products may not be the same. The service levels will likely never be the same. My experience has shown that the dealers support, expertise, and the transaction terms always exceed those of the online seller. The services provided through your local rep include warranty, setup, installation, and more. When ordering from a secondary marketplace online, you don’t have any of that.

 

Also, I would definitely warn against “bait and switch” tactics. That could be a Midmark sterilizer in the photo seen online, but when you receive the product, it’s a completely different product, or a no-name brand, or even a knock-off from overseas.

 

It is very important to fully understand the full extent of the freight, delivery, and installation of the product being ordered. I’ve heard of one truck driver who simply pushed the equipment out of the back of the truck when the dental office didn’t have the resources to help unload it. If that happens to you, and you bought from an online company or an unauthorized distributor, there isn’t anything a manufacturer can do to help the office. There’s no paper trail, and the transaction isn’t between the office and the manufacturer. It is between the office and this nameless, faceless online company.

 

Henry: Any final thoughts or words of advice?

Aycock: Don’t forget that when it comes to complying with the FDA, your dental board, CDC, OSHA or any regulatory body, the ultimate responsibility lies with the clinic that makes the final purchase. If you’re a dentist, you have to know you are purchasing an FDA-approved product, that everyone on the staff complies with the proper use, and the piece of equipment performs properly. If you can’t say that and something happens in your practice, the regulatory body and media will say you were the dentist who wasn’t using an FDA-approved device to treat patients. At that point, your ability to practice and your reputation will be questioned.

We all want to ensure the safety of patients and team members. Often, the family of the dentist and team members will be patients of the practice. Do you really want to treat them with something that isn’t FDA-approved or doesn’t comply with all of the rules that are used to regulate your office?