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Digitisation is not new in dentistry, but new software platforms are taking it to the next level when it comes to ordering stock and inventory control. By Lynne Testoni
Digitising many administrative processes continues to bring in efficiencies for large businesses—and it’s a lesson that smaller businesses such as dental practices can learn from.
Because, while many practices have digitised their appointment schedules and patient records, some business functions have remained largely manual, especially stock ordering and inventory control. Dentists contend with multiple suppliers of consumables, making the process clunky and time-consuming.
Co-founder of software platform Invedent, Luca Tizzano, says that many dental practices still rely on manual stock checks, whiteboards, spreadsheets and even sticky notes.
“Practice management software was one of the first steps to digitisation for dental practices,” he says. “Twenty years later, we are trying to solve it for stock management as well. It is probably one of the last things to be digitised in a dental practice.”
Invedent started as an inventory management system, providing dentists with the ability to scan stock using a Smartphone app that allows you to add products in or remove them. This information then feeds into a system that tells clinics when they need to order new stock from suppliers.
“It works mainly through minimum and maximum quantities,” explains Tizzano. “So once the stock level gets to the designated minimum quantity, it recommends how many you need to order to maintain the necessary inventory.”
Invedent has been available for two years, starting with a trial phase, which allowed the team to refine the platform based on users’ feedback. This approach has seen Invedent go from strength to strength, growing 211 per cent in Q1 of 2022. Now Tizzano and the Invedent team are working on the next stage—streamlining the ordering process and connecting the two elements by bringing suppliers into the platform.
“What our customers have said is that we’ve solved all these stock management problems, which is amazing, but how do we streamline the ordering side?” says Tizzano. “What we are building at the moment is connecting what practices need to order with their suppliers directly.
“So that’s where we solve two problems—stock management and ordering.”
Former president of the WA branch of the ADA, Sean Archibald, consulted to Invedent and he says that one of the interesting things that came out of this process for him was an understanding of how many different pieces of stock dental practices carry.
“It’s somewhere between 400 to 500 different products, for a small practice. Not a 10-chair practice, just a one or two chair.
“In a situation like the practice I work in, we have four or five people that work there in the day, but we have the same number of products as a small Woolworths store, who might have 10 staff running their stock levels. We don’t have that. So we need something really smart, like Invedent, to bridge that gap.”
Dentists Dr Namita Gupta and Dr Stephan Kantharajah encountered similar issues while running their three dental clinics and decided to create an online ordering system for dental practices.
Called Restocq, it has combined the ordering processes of about 15 of the major dental suppliers into a single interface, allowing practice managers and practice owners to have one point of contact when ordering consumables.
“Restocq was honestly born out of frustration and just not having a suitable solution to go ahead and manage this process,” says Kantharajah.
“We have three dental practices in NSW that are geographically spread out,” adds Dr Gupta. “What we found was that as we moved from one to two, and then a third site, our problems with inventory management and stock ordering became extremely problematic. And the problems just magnified as we expanded our operations.
“There was no technology or innovation occurring in this sphere to make our lives as business owners more streamlined,” she says. “We wanted better visibility on numbers and how we were tracking. How much you’re spending on stock and consumables is a pretty important metric in a dental practice.”
Dr Kantharajah says they discovered that many suppliers of dental products were still operating manually when it came to ordering, often relying on their sales reps on the road to smooth over any issues.
“Often stock shortages don’t become apparent to a dental practice owner or a clinician until they’re actually in a procedure requiring a product and that product isn’t available to them,” he says. “Sometimes services cannot be completed, and that has a huge financial impact on a dental practice and on the service they’re providing to their patients.”
Restocq received seed funding of $2 million late last year, with tech company Airtasker co-founder Jonathan Lui joining the funding round as one of the investors. After a soft launch in December 2021, the company is now focused on increasing their market penetration.
Although Restocq benefits all dental practices of varying size and operation, ‘delta’ practices, or small group practices of two or three clinics, are the businesses finding significant benefit from Restocq.
“It’s basically a digitised hub for ordering,” says Dr Gupta. “You’re met with a dashboard and key analytics as soon as you log in. So you can see how many orders you’re still waiting on delivery for, how much you’ve spent in the month, how much of your budget’s still remaining, and the breakdown of what you’ve spent on types of different products. You can run analytics and have more engaged conversations with your suppliers on pricing.
“You can browse and search for products within an online catalogue of over two million SKUs, with the top four or five suppliers that everyone orders from, plus a range of smaller suppliers as well.”
While Restocq may look at inventory control at some point, they decided to go to market with the ordering system first, as a minimum viable product (MVP).
“You have to start from somewhere,” says Dr Kantharajah. “We realised that each practice does their inventory management a different way, but everybody orders the same way. They have to interact with the suppliers the exact same way. And so when we chose the problem to fix, this fixes 80 per cent of the pain and we will get to that residual 20 per cent.”