Don’t agonize - organize!

March 1, 2005
One of my goals this year is organization. Organization is a key factor in productivity and profitability.

One of my goals this year is organization. Organization is a key factor in productivity and profitability. Having experienced a high level of disorganization in the last several months, I have begun to focus most of my energy toward enhancing my own organizational skills as well as those of dental teams with which I work. With that in mind, my next several columns will focus on various tools to better organize our work settings.

A logical first step on the way to organization is to streamline inventory management. What type of inventory control system does your practice use? Do you know what your practice currently has in inventory? What types of products and materials do you have, and in what quantities? Are you critically low on some items and overstocked on others? Do you know the monetary value of your current inventory? Can you easily determine the answers to these questions? If not, you may have some homework to do.

Begin first to evaluate your current inventory management system and its effectiveness. Most of the dental supply dealers provide inventory management systems for their customers. Some are tag systems in which products are placed in bins or containers with tags that identify the product, quantity to order, and the reorder point for the product. When a product needs to be reordered, the tag is removed from the container and placed in a location where the dealer representative can access it and order the product. Other dealers provide systems that reference bar codes on the products or their storage containers/bins. When products need to be ordered, the representative uses a bar code reader to upload the product information and then download it into the dealer’s ordering system. Through these automated systems, the dental suppliers can provide customers with reports that summarize expenditures for products and supplies throughout the year, a useful tool in budgeting.

Both of these types of inventory systems are very organized approaches that utilize the capable services of dental supply representatives as an extension of the team. The systems combine inventory management and ordering into simple steps. One limitation, however, of many dealer inventory systems is that the representative typically only manages the products and supplies that are ordered through his/her company. Since many dental practices order items from several sources, this may require more than one inventory management system.

Some software programs can track all products used in a practice into one comprehensive system. This type of system allows a practice to access the entire inventory from one source. One such program is Ordertrak, from Software Innovations, Ltd. This software not only tracks all products regardless of where they are ordered from, but it also keeps track of product costs and total inventory expenses. Ordertrak 3.0 includes an auto dialer for ordering, an interface with Quicken money management software, and other useful features. The software can be purchased in a single-user or a network (multiuser) version.

One of the most recent additions to inventory management options is the Inventory Management System from Accu-Bite Dental Supply. This easy-to-use system is Internet-based. And although it is offered by a dental supplier, users do not have to be Accu-Bite customers. The company provides bar coding for all of the products and a bar code reader that team members can use when taking items out of inventory. When the reorder point is reached, the product information is scanned with the reader and stored until it can be uploaded from the office computer, via the Internet, to the Accu-Bite Web site. The program will give a cost comparison for purchasing products from the company, and can complete an order with just a few extra steps. Users can always order from the dealer of their choice.

When all products have been entered into the system, a total value of the inventory can be provided, which is helpful for tax returns and financial management and budgeting. The system can also track money spent for supplies by category on an ongoing basis. As with other systems, these reports can be provided in a list or graph/chart format, which is helpful for making monthly or yearly comparisons. When analyzed, these comparisons can provide valuable data for the practice in terms of the amount of money invested in certain types of products and supplies, and help identify where changes might be necessary to increase profitability.

The system or systems that you use for managing your inventory are obviously your choice, but at least have a system. Running out of disinfectant or restorative materials can impact production. Placing a rush order and paying expedited shipping charges can cost a significant amount of money if it happens frequently. Ordering products ahead of time can save a great deal of money in shipping charges. Your practice may also realize significant savings by taking advantage of dealer or meeting specials on items that are regularly ordered.

Just as ordering supplies on a timely basis can save shipping costs, maintaining an accurate inventory of products can also save money by avoiding the purchase of too many items with a short shelf life. If too much of a product is ordered at one time, such as radiographic film, not all of that item may be used by the expiration date. Using outdated film may result in a poor diagnostic image, so such film should be discarded. Inventory management helps to determine the rate of use of items. This is a good predictor of appropriate quantities to have on hand to avoid wasting materials that exceed their expiration date.

Reviewing products in inventory can also provide valuable information about products that are no longer used. If appropriate, these items may be donated to charitable groups, thus reducing the inventory on hand and possibly resulting in some tax deductions. Having an accurate inventory - on a list and perhaps in pictures (still and video) - would be extremely helpful for insurance purposes. If an office or facility experienced fire or flood damage, settling an insurance claim could be much simpler and faster with an up-to-date inventory of all items, including equipment.

Take the first step on the journey toward better organization. Review your current inventory management system. If it needs improvement or enhancement, invest your time to make that happen. The results will be well worth it.

Next time we will discuss time-saving products and devices for the clinical areas of the practice.

Mary Govoni is a Certified and Registered Dental Assistant and a Registered Dental Hygienist, with more than 28 years of experience in the dental profession as a chairside assistant, office administrator, clinical hygienist, educator, consultant, and speaker. She is the owner of Clinical Dynamics, a consulting company dedicated to the enhancement of the clinical and communication skills of dental teams. She can be reached at [email protected].