** EDITOR’S NOTE: I’d never really considered the role of advertising dollars in dental media before two days ago. I’d always assumed, naively, that good content was good content and that media outlets were there to serve the audience, but Dr. Drucker’s experience and the fact that almost no one knew about the Big 3 being sued for price fixing demonstrate exactly how things work in the real world. I’m not expecting things to change only to inform my fellow dentists of how the game is played. **
By: Scott Drucker DMD
This piece is an expression of my concern with the chokehold that major dental supply companies have on media within the industry.
After finishing dental school and trying to buy supplies, I learned very quickly that the dental supply marketplace is antiquated, and quite frankly entirely opaque. I browsed online for several minutes and realized I could find every item for substantially less than the ‘discounted’ prices big distributors had offered.
Roughly two years ago, my brother Jacob and I started working on Supply Clinic – an online marketplace that strives to offer real-market pricing in a transparent and easy-to-use site. As a dentist myself, I made sure that the site was built to be dentist friendly: no signup fee, no monthly fees, and generally a helpful, free resource to better understand product pricing.
In an attempt to hit the ground running, I approached several large publications in the dental world to ask for help. Who better to approach than publications with the largest ‘readerships’ in the country? My article (found below) was to be a brief opinion piece on the lack of transparency in the marketplace, and showcase the perspective of a young dentist who grew up shopping for things online. A short while later, I heard back from Dental Economics; they were excited about the material and queued it up to be published on DentistryIQ. The article was eventually published on November 10th 2015, and we were thrilled. We posted links on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. A notable increase of traffic came from DentstiryIQ in the ensuing weeks. That is, up until November 24th; we woke up and realized the article had been taken down from the site, and our link led to a dead page.
I immediately contacted the editorial staff at Dental Economics. I spoke with an editor, and had the most reasonable conversation I could have hoped for. The editor explained that he actually loved the content, but that his hands were tied. One of the sponsors of the publication had realized the implications of a transparent online marketplace, and there was nothing more to be said.
Two months later, over a dozen class-action lawsuits were filed against the Big 3 (Henry-Schein, Patterson, and Benco) for allegedly colluding and price-fixing. Anti-trust violation is no joke; it is hugely disconcerting that major industry players could have such control over content published. As dentists, we need to be extremely cautious about sponsored content, and consume published material with a grain of salt. My experience made it painstakingly clear that what makes it to our mailboxes and inboxes has been pre-vetted by the industry giants.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE POSTED ON DENTISTRY IQ AND THEN REMOVED:
Fixing the Dental Supply Marketplace
The dental supply marketplace is broken. Dental offices either pay premiums for the “privilege” of buying from large distributors, or spend vastly too much time shopping for reasonable market prices. It’s inefficient, it’s opaque, and it’s a model that’s been around since the nineteenth century.
I didn’t appreciate any of this until I graduated dental school two years ago. I found myself looking to buy mirrors, but wasn’t willing to pay the prices that large distributors charged (even at a “discount” off their catalog prices). Identical mirrors were available at a more affordable price from an online vendor that doesn’t support a staff of sales reps.
Ever since then, I can’t help but notice that the same item produced by the same manufacturer can cost wildly varying prices. According to a Dental Economics study, the average dental practice spends nearly $65,000 on supplies every year, when they could be paying thousands less. But the company that sells bibs affordably doesn’t sell burs or extraction forceps, so an office either wastes valuable time piecing together their inventory or pays premium prices to a large distributor. Neither option is particularly appealing.
Accustomed to shopping online, I realized the simplest solution is an online marketplace. On one site, dentists should be able to browse all the products they buy, see which vendors sell them, and buy those items right then and there. Similar sites have been built for car insurance, hotel booking, clothing shopping, flights, and many other industries. There’s no reason dentistry needs to stay mired in a century-old model of opaque pricing and price discrimination.
With the help of my brother and an all-star team, I’ve spent nearly two years building just that site. Based in Chicago, we’ve been aided greatly by MATTER, a startup space in the Merchandise Mart dedicated to the advancement of technological solutions to problems in the healthcare world. The result is Supply Clinic, an online marketplace for dental supplies.
After months of outreach, we’ve signed 50 vendors, list nearly 10,000 items, and are growing rapidly. We recently opened up the website, supplyclinic.com, to all users. Now, any user can browse the site and buy from a multitude of vendors in one simple checkout. To save time and money, all items are drop-shipped directly from the vendor to the office. The site is free to use, offering an invaluable resource to offices looking to price-compare.
We understand 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. Now, many of those vendors and their products can be found on Supply Clinic.
We hope offices find Supply Clinic to be a valuable resource to save both time and money. Our free-to-browse model allows dentists and office managers to make more informed purchasing decisions. We wholeheartedly support open access to product and pricing information, and the transition to a more transparent marketplace.