How to Effectively Manage Dental Inventory as a DSO

November 8, 2021

Your stockroom may be a source of stress more than a handy area to hold your practice's dental supplies. Inventory levels may be inaccurate, and stock may be too high or too disorganized. Team members might have trouble finding supplies when needed, or you could be sinking an excessive amount of money into your stockroom, causing cash flow to be tight.

If your organization is facing any of these challenges, it may be time for you to reconfigure your inventory management system. By following these guidelines (or, if you’re a DSO, assisting your offices in following these guidelines), you can safeguard against financial losses and ensure access to necessary supplies when it matters the most.

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The Importance of Inventory Management

Inventory management is essential for developing an efficient, productive dental practice. With a well-designed system in place, you can take the guesswork out of ordering products. Regular stock audits allow you to see how many supplies you have on hand and how much you use. Audits let you make informed decisions on how much stock to order, so you avoid running out of product when you need it the most.

Additionally, inventory management can help save money when purchasing products. An effective inventory management plan allows you to know how much product you need and avoid over-ordering. It also enables you to decide when to order based on expiration dates to ensure you waste as little product as possible.

When it's time to order, your plan will help you choose the suppliers that give you the best rates. Compare all associated costs, including shipping, so you can purchase with confidence and ensure you don't overpay. Between ordering the perfect amount of product and saving on supply costs, the savings can add up to thousands of dollars per year.

Track and Manage Your Dental Supplies

The first step of an inventory management plan is to develop a system for keeping track of your supplies. The methods for organizing your supplies will depend on your workspace and typical workflow. Your system should allow you to check inventory levels quickly and accurately.Here are some steps on how to better manage dental inventory.

1. Identify Frequent Stock Issues

Before planning how you would like to keep track of your stock, it can help to list areas where you have had stock issues over the past few months. By identifying these issues, you can develop well-informed strategies for eliminating them. Answer these questions to help you find areas for improvement in your stock management system:

  • Do you frequently run out of specific items, and how often?
  • Has any product expired lately, and how much?
  • Have any orders arrived later than you needed them?
  • Do you know the locations of all supplies, even for procedures you rarely perform?

2. Create a Stock List

A stock list allows you to quickly reference any supplies you need to order. Even if you have a comprehensive knowledge of every supply you use, the rest of your staff will need more specific guidance for ordering. A well-designed dental office inventory spreadsheet will include supplier information to assist in ordering, as well as determining current and maximum item quantities for your practice. Depending on your needs, you can also note pricing information, expiration ranges, special storage requirements, and other helpful notes.To create your dental office supply checklist:

  1. Start by writing down every supply item you currently use in your office, from dental supplies to everyday office supplies.
  2. Note the location of each item so all staff can quickly find them when needed.
  3. Estimate the amount of each supply you need per month. When placing orders, you will reference these numbers to help decide when and how much you should order.

Supplies with brief shelf lives are crucial for a stock list, as this record can help stop shortages caused by understocking and prevent waste from overstocking. Additionally, the supplies your dental office uses daily are critical to maintaining your service levels and are generally low-cost. While you want to avoid the risk of damaged, lost or expired products, it can be beneficial to err on the side of caution for these critical supplies by keeping more on hand.We find that the staff closest to end-use have a greater awareness of standard usage quantities. Consult them when establishing reorder points and setting order quantities. If you need a starting point for your stock list, we’ve put together a free dental office supply list template and order tracking spreadsheet, downloadable in google Sheets. You can also look online for dental inventory spreadsheet PDFs prefilled in a dental supplies inventory format.

3. Organize Your Stockroom

Optimizing your stockroom's flow benefits your practice in many ways. An organized system enables you to find supplies easily when you need them, ensures correct storage for sanitization, and reduces the risk of injury in the stockroom. An organized stockroom allows you to perform stock audits efficiently and record items received or taken.Here are some tips on how to organize your dental practice's stockroom.

  • Introduce FIFO: Since expired supplies waste money and can even pose a severe health risk to your patients, you don't want to allow perishable goods to expire. Grocery stores use the first-in, first-out method to cycle perishable merchandise on their shelves. With FIFO, you use supplies with the closest expiration date first, reducing waste. The trick is lining up your inventory in the order you want it used and remembering to place new stock at the back (assuming it has a later expiry date, of course.)
  • Make supplies easily accessible: Store your most frequently used supplies in a place where you can quickly grab them when needed. If possible, remove extra steps by eliminating cabinet doors so you can pick up supplies without having to open any containers.
  • Keep everything in one place: While it may be tempting to set extra boxes of supplies aside from the "primary" stockroom to save space, this method tends to cause more problems than it's worth and could cost you a financial write-off. Separating the excess stock increases the chance of product expiring and makes it more challenging to find and retrieve products when you need them.

4. Know When to Reorder Supplies

Choosing when to reorder dental supplies is a balancing act that can take a while to get right. Ordering too much too often results in reduced cash flow and the potential for wasting money on expired products while ordering too little can cause interruptions if you run out of product at critical times.Consider these factors to help you find the right moment to order:

  • Lead time: Each shipment may take a different amount of time to arrive at your office. Determining the lead time between a dental practice and its supplier could involve product demand, the distance between the practice and the supplier, and other production and logistical factors.

Ideally, the vendor will indicate lead time in their quotes or on their website. However, it's important to note this is typically an average lead time and could vary depending on a number of factors. Actual delivery dates should be confirmed upon placing your order, so you'll want to keep an eye on these to ensure items will be delivered before you run out.

Also, keep in mind that sourcing dental supplies through suppliers with shorter lead times can help you maintain lower inventory levels and react faster in case of unforeseen requirements or shortages.

  • Reorder point and reorder quantity: SSetting a reorder point triggers an order to be placed when your inventory level falls below the set point. Reorder quantity is the amount you will order when you reach the reorder point. You can determine quantity based on shelf life, typical usage, and any available pricing breaks based on volume. Reorder point should be based on average lead times (how long it usually takes for supplies to reach you after ordering) and how much you expect to use in that same time period.

By pre-establishing a reorder point and reorder quantity you can make sure to keep enough on hand to keep you from running out before your next order delivers, but not so much as you hinder your cash flow and incur additional carrying costs unnecessarily.

  • Safety stock: It can be wise to order slightly more stock than necessary to protect you from sudden increases in demand or late deliveries. The amount of safety stock youkeep should vary from item to item, especially when it comes to supplies with brief expiration periods.

Develop an Ordering Process

After organizing your storage area, the next step is to standardize your process for ordering new supplies. All team members responsible for ordering should use the same approach to avoid mistakes and discrepancies. Clearly defining this process and keeping the procedures written in an easily accessible location will help increase ordering efficiency.Here are the fundamentals of a successful ordering process.

1. Set up Purchasing Controls

By splitting purchasing responsibilities among several team members, you can protect your dental practice from overpriced or unnecessary purchases or even potential theft and fraud. Even if you fully trust your staff to make the right choices, they are still prone to human error. An extra pair of eyes can help prevent mistakes before it's too late. If possible, you should separate purchasing responsibilities for requesting, placing, and approving purchases, submitting payments to vendors, receiving orders, and auditing the stockroom.

2. Request Quotes From Suppliers

When preparing for a purchase, you should compare prices between several vendors to find the best price. Sometimes the prices may seem nearly identical or only a few cents off. However, minor price differences can accrue over time, potentially resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of extra dollars spent on supplies. When reviewing supplier quotes, you should also consider:

  • Shipping and handling fees.
  • How long it will take for the supplies to arrive after ordering.
  • The relationship between your practice and the supplier.
  • The quality of items the supplier provides.

Calculating what the price difference would add up to over a year will also inform your decision. Method Procurement’s digital RFQ process can help ease the sometimes cumbersome process. By providing a digital platform that streamlines the end-to-end process, making it quicker and easier for suppliers to submit their bids, you’re more likely to have more vendors participate. Method will also help you compare and analyze responses across many suppliers to ensure optimal pricing and timely delivery before your order is placed. Once you’ve selected your vendors, you can then quickly convert quotes to POs, even sending them directly to vendors.

3. Send a Purchase Order

When you're ready to place an order with a supplier, send the request as a purchase order. A purchase order is a legally binding confirmation between a buyer and seller, acting as a contract to keep a vendor accountable for their promised prices and deliverables. Purchase orders benefit dental practices because they help avoid the price creep of dental supplies. Some suppliers may try to take advantage of a disorganized practice by increasing prices, and a purchase order holds a supplier to their word by improving pricing visibility.

4. Receive and Store New Stock

Upon the arrival of new stock you must ensure you account for every item ordered. Check the shipment for any signs of damage and make sure the amount you ordered matches the amount you received and the amount displayed on the packing slip. Also, ensure the product received is what you ordered and that it is in good condition. There's a chance the supplier may accidentally send different brands or slightly different versions of products or that it was damaged in transit.

If you find any discrepancies or damage in the ordered products, you should report those issues to the supplier right away. It is best to take care of issues as soon as possible because some suppliers have a limited time window for addressing order issues.

Once you've counted the product in, you should make a note of the change in stock with your inventory log, updating listed quantities so you have a better indication of stock levels. Also, be sure to place newer supplies in the back of the storage area and use the older products before they expire.

Use Inventory Management Software

While it's possible to keep track of supplies on your own, inventory management software can streamline the process, so you can spend more time focusing on your patients. With automated processes and a modern user interface, inventory management software makes the process easy. Here's how inventory management software can help your dental practice.

Easily Manage and Track Inventory

Organizing your supplies is a breeze with inventory management software. Rather than mapping out a stock list manually, the software can help you quickly build a stock list of the industry's best and most up-to-date supplies. The best procurement software can offer an online catalog of thousands of unique dental products so you can find anything you need.

You can also use inventory management software to equip items in your stockroom with barcodes. A barcode scanning system allows you to quickly identify products for reordering and can even help you quickly find items in the stockroom, acting as a dental office supply tracking system. The barcode system is beneficial in larger stockrooms that contain many different products.

Inventory management software can generate inventory audits and usage reports for auditing your stock. Analyzing these reports will help you better understand the flow of supplies and help inform the best stock levels for future ordering.

Automatically Send Quote Requests

When suppliers compete for your business, you have the best chance of finding a low price for your dental goods. Calling or emailing suppliers can be effective, though the process is often slow due to delayed response times. Inventory management software allows you to send multiple requests for quotes and proposals with a single process.

Smart inventory software also assists you in reviewing quotes. Especially if you request quotes from many different suppliers, it can be challenging to compare them all. The software can perform cost analyses on each quote and proposal while also ensuring each quote meets your practice's needs. And with all quotes housed in a central platform, you reduce email clutter and notes from phone conversations, ensuring accuracy and ease of access.

Quickly Request and Order Supplies

All team members involved in purchase decisions have access to a centralized ordering platform with inventory management software. Team members can collaborate on requests within the platform, attaching notes and approving or denying specific parts of a proposal to ensure your practice orders precisely what it needs. You can also use the platform to track requests and order statuses for complete transparency in the ordering process.

Reordering supplies is quick and easy with intelligent software, too. Low-stock alerts help you know when to order before you face a stock issue. You can also quickly create order requests based on previous orders and have the program automatically fill in the supply information to save time in the process.

Confidently Receive Supplies

Smart inventory software helps simplify the receiving process by allowing you to check new shipments into your stockroom. You can record quantities received, inspect shipments for accuracy, record product conditions and attach photos to receipts for proof. Keeping all your order information in a single place helps to keep suppliers accountable, so you only pay for the stock you can use.

Accurately Pay Invoices

Your inventory management software can keep you from overpaying for your dental supplies. The software can help you cross-compare invoices to purchase orders and received supplies and identify discrepancies between them. You can check for billing errors from incorrectly keyed amounts and quantities, protecting you from overpaying and fraud.

Choose Method for Inventory Management Software

Smart inventory management software makes keeping track of dental supplies simple. At Method Procurement, a team of dental industry and technology experts built our cloud-based system specifically for dental practices. Our team's valuable experience allows us to identify the unique procurement challenges dental practices face. With intelligent solutions engineered by veterans in the field, you can confidently manage your practice's supplies.

Method procurement software simplifies every step of the inventory management process. We offer systems for tracking your office's supply inventory, requesting quotes, purchasing from suppliers, and more. Our processes can help improve return on investment while also equipping your team with the resources necessary to streamline your purchasing processes.

Ready to improve your inventory management system? Request a demo today or get in touch with our team if you have any questions!

Ready to build a better dental practice?

Method Procurement Technologies gives independent dental practices and DSOs the inventory management and procurement capabilities they need to succeed. With our full, end-to-end solution, ordering dental supplies is straightforward and hassle-free.

Learn how Method Procurement's spend management solutions can improve your bottom line. Get in touch with our team today or request a demo to see it for yourself.