Fixing the dental supply market

Dentists love all the latest technologies. Then why have they taken so long to adopt online shopping as their preferred method of supply shopping for their practices? Supply Clinic makes it easy for dental practices to order online.

May 8th, 2017
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Dentists have been slow to adopt online shopping as a preferred method for buying dental supplies. But Scott Drucker, founder of e-commerce site Supply Clinic, is ready to change that.

Most people today are comfortable with shopping online. They buy shirts, shoes, and plane tickets online. They reorder printer ink online. They buy music online. They even order major electronics online. But when it comes to buying dental supplies, we dentists have been slow to adapt. Why?

Let's look at the problem a little deeper. We dentists—and our staffs—are still buying supplies the way we have for decades. We still pay premiums to buy from large distributors, who send sales reps to our offices. Even though we are a professional group interested in the latest technologies, we don't shop for new technologies online.

One reason dentists and dental offices don't shop online is because comparing prices is difficult. As practices that do shop online know, you have to spend valuable time price comparing different vendors to find a bargain. It's a process that is inefficient and outdated.

I didn’t appreciate any of this until I graduated from dental school several years ago. I wanted to buy simple products, like mirrors and disinfectant wipes, but I wasn’t in a position to pay the prices that some large distributors charged—even at a “discount” off their catalog prices. But after doing some browsing online, I learned that the same brands were available at far more affordable prices from small online vendors—ones that didn’t need to support sales reps.

Since that experience, I've noticed that many items have wildly varying prices depending on which companies sell them. According to a study conducted by Levin Group and Dental Economics, the average dental practice spends as much as $65,000 on supplies every year—when they could be paying thousands less. (1)

Finding more affordable sources can be challenging. For example, a small online distributor that sells bibs for less might not sell burs or extraction forceps. As a result, practices that don't want to pay a premium to a large distributor can wind up wasting valuable time piecing together inventory.

For those of us accustomed to online shopping, the solution is obvious: an online marketplace. On a single site site, we should be able to browse for all the products we buy, see which companies sell them, and buy these items right then and there. Similar sites have been built for car insurance, hotels, clothing, airline flights, and other industries. There’s no reason dentistry needs to stay mired in an old-fashioned model of hidden pricing and price discrimination.

With the help of my brother and an all-star team, I’ve spent three years building just that site—Supply Clinic, an online marketplace for dental supplies. Based in Chicago, we’ve been aided greatly by MATTER, a startup space in the Merchandise Mart dedicated to the advancement of tech solutions for problems in health care.

Supply Clinic has been live for a year and a half. It now hosts 100 vendors and more than 30,000 items. Any user can browse the site and buy from many vendors in one simple checkout. To save time and money, items are drop-shipped directly from the vendor to the office. The site is free to use, making it an invaluable resource for offices that want to price compare. We verify supply chain for all materials that could impact treatment outcomes so offices don’t have to worry about knock-off or expired items. (More details on the FAQ page here.)

We understand that not everything is meant to be sold online, and sales reps are valuable assets to offices, especially with regard to new products. But no office needs to pay a “sales rep premium” on disposables—or any other item they’ve used for years. Even with the discounts offered by large distributors, prices can almost always be beat by smaller, more specialized vendors. Many of those vendors and their products can now be found on Supply Clinic.

We hope dental practices find Supply Clinic to be a valuable resource to save both time and money. Our free-to-shop model allows dentists and office managers to price compare and make more informed purchasing decisions. We support open access to product and pricing information, along with the transition to a more transparent marketplace.


References

Blaes J. The Dental Economics/Levin Group 7th annual practice research report. Solid recovery offset by outdated systems. Dental Economics. 2013;(103)11:70-74. Accessed April 1, 2017 at: http://levingroup.com/pdf/desurvey/2013/Nov_DE_LGsurvey2.pdf.


Editor's note: This article first appeared in DE's Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe.


Scott Drucker, DDS, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in 2013. He received a master of science in oral sciences and a certificate in periodontics from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2016. In 2014, Dr. Drucker founded Supply Clinic, an online marketplace for dental supplies. As an entrepreneurial clinician, he has a unique perspective to develop the supply market with dentists in mind. His goals are to improve the transparency and efficiency of the health-care supply market and optimize clinical digital workflows. He can be reached at scott@supplyclinic.com or (512) 508-8028.


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