E-procurement platforms, AI, and more trends from DentalForum 2024

Beth Gaddis Headshot

At this year's DentalForum, leaders from more than two dozen dental service organizations (DSOs) and purchasing groups gathered for what can best be described as "vendor speed dating."

They asked to be set up for one-on-one meetings with the top vendors of their choice in a rapid-fire series of 15-minute interviews.

It's an unusual event in which the DSO leaders come because they want to mingle with vendors, and for two days in Austin, TX, in late April, they built relationships over food and conversation.

They also got a sneak peek at the Group Dentistry Now 2024 procurement survey, which many used as a benchmark on how their own organizations are performing.

Syed Shoaib, vice president of facilities and procurement at Eastern Dental

Syed Shoaib.Syed Shoaib.

"I was a dentist in India, and when I came to the U.S., I worked as a clinical assistant and as an office manager in a dental practice while I got my master's in health and informatics. I also worked in the dental insurance industry and with a dental lab, so I have a well-rounded view of dentistry from multiple perspectives.

"The biggest challenges we're facing are the economy and inflation and the higher costs of recruitment and retention. Those costs directly impact my procurement processes. When there's turnover, it necessitates training and retraining, and you're constantly trying to standardize your processes for ordering supplies and inventory management.

"I was happy to see in the procurement survey that we're on target with other DSOs. We've been running a tight ship and we're spending about 4% to 6% of our revenue on supplies. We saw that more people are adopting AI [artificial intelligence] and technology to optimize processes, including procurement, inventory management, facility access, revenue cycle management (RCM), and clinical decision-making."

Jeanne Cook, 30+ years of experience in dental operations and procurement

Cook Jeanne

"I've attended DentalForum for the past five or six years and this meeting is of particular interest to me because of the dedicated time I can spend with vendors. This year, I met several new companies and plan to engage with them more, including:

  • Planet DDS to learn more about Denticon practice management
  • Bioclear Matrix Systems to learn more about minimally invasive composite restorations
  • KAD Dental Staffing to learn more about temp and temp-to-permanent staffing, which is in high demand
  • Several outsourcing companies, such as Dental Claims Support, to assist our operations so we can focus more on patients and spend less time with busy work like chasing down claims

"We're noticing people are joining group purchasing organizations to help doctors save money and combat rising costs. We're always looking for ways to keep costs down while helping doctors maximize their time and productivity so they can help more patients.

"Right now, I’m most interested in AI companies. When I was a dental assistant back in the 90s, I worked side by side with a doctor and this would have been a powerful motivator for patients, increasing their awareness of their dental needs."

Bryan Womack, vice president of procurement at Dentive

Bryan Womack.Bryan Womack.

"In the old days, you had one distributor, one formulary, and it was all about the relationships you had with one. First COVID supply chain issues, then cyberattacks on distributors, and Change Healthcare showed us that you need to have a couple of options in place. You need to have a backup.

"Relationships are still the key. Those preferred vendors are the ones that can save you when a piece of equipment is down and you need to get up and running right away.

"But you need to be risk averse in today's environment. We're having open dialogue and full transparency with our vendors to explain what our key initiatives are to work in partnership with them. Pricing is important, but it's about more than price.  Your preferred vendors should be a partner with you to achieve your organization's goals.

At DentalForum, I saw several services that intrigued me. Staffing remains a problem for DSOs, and you can lose a lot of revenue with staff turnover, so services like Support DDS and other outsourcing agencies are interesting to me.

"AI is definitely a trend that's going to continue. A picture's worth a thousand words, and patients respond when they can see the x-rays with AI analysis. Seeing images with highlighted color instead of grayscale is eye-opening for a patient.  Intraoral cameras were a huge hit and I think like those, AI is a value-add tool that is here to stay.

"Another trend is same-day dentistry. It not's about cost savings so much as patient experience convenience. When you add up the raw materials, the cost of the equipment, the service fees and the salary of the person doing onsite milling or 3D printing, it's pretty close to traditional lab costs for a DSO. The differentiator is being able to deliver same-day service to the patients so they don't need to come back for a second visit."

2024 Group Dentistry Now procurement survey results

This April's Group Dentistry Now procurement survey encompassed responses from 53 dental groups representing more than 8,400 practices. While about 60% of respondents said their dental supply spend is between 4% to 6% of revenue, about 20% of respondents put the figure in the 7% to 9% range.

Karla-Marie Santiago.Karla-Marie Santiago.

"It's obvious from the survey that there's room to optimize supply spend through consolidation and cost reductions throughout the rest of 2024," Karla-Marie Santiago, a procurement expert who worked for a DSO with 44 locations before joining the Cavaretta Consulting Group, said.

"DSOs continue to implement e-procurement platforms to not only increase efficiency in their ordering process but also track compliance with clinical formularies and monthly budgets. The use of data analytics in procurement will play a big role in making strategic decisions so doctors can deliver high-quality patient care while maximizing margins," Santiago said.

Amy Bridger.Amy Bridger.

"Decreasing supply spend by just 1% can increase EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] by 4% to 6%. It's all part of increasing value through strategic procurement approaches," explained Amy Bridger, who is also with Cavaretta Consulting Group. Bridger will present a case study to walk dentists and operations specialists through the process during this July's Dykema DSO Industry Group conference in Denver.

Fiscal management combined with delivering high-quality clinical care and an excellent patient experience all work together to help practices increase same-practice growth. And that's a trend that everyone wants to see.

Beth Gaddis is the editor in chief at Planet DDS, a dental technology company specializing in cloud-based practice management systems, digital imaging, and dental marketing services. Previously, Gaddis was the marketing director for two large dental service organizations. Prior to entering the dental industry, Gaddis was a journalist for 16 years in a variety of roles, including as a TV news producer at the CBS affiliate in Boston. You can connect with Gaddis on LinkedIn.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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