Dental-Office Purchasing Internet Time- and Cost-Savings plus equals

Nov. 1, 1998
Amazingly, Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days. And yet, only a very small handful of dentists have mentally translated the time- and cost-saving purchasing power this tool can bring to their dental practices. Even the 30 percent of dentists who currently utilize the Internet are not getting the economic mileage available through product purchasing via the Internet. Shopping via the Internet - or e-commerce, as it is known - is not a new concept in dentistry. However, only 10 percent or

Claudia Coplon

Amazingly, Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days. And yet, only a very small handful of dentists have mentally translated the time- and cost-saving purchasing power this tool can bring to their dental practices. Even the 30 percent of dentists who currently utilize the Internet are not getting the economic mileage available through product purchasing via the Internet. Shopping via the Internet - or e-commerce, as it is known - is not a new concept in dentistry. However, only 10 percent or so of dentists and staff make electronic dental purchases. That leaves 90 percent who haven`t tried Internet shopping. These dentists have not been educated about the advantages of using the Internet and dental-industry Web pages to:

* shop the entire line of dental products seven days a week, 24 hours a day;

* browse and identify product values;

* compare and contrast products;

* learn about the some 20 new products coming on the market every month;

** access continuing education.

Tapping into the Internet to save time and labor costs in the dental office should be a relatively easy transition. Technology-savvy and enthusiastic manufacturers, distributors, dental laboratories, finance companies, and other suppliers are turning to the Internet to trade goods, opportunities, and information with the dental population. This merchandising tool provides sellers with a growing marketing channel directly to the dentist, facilitating communications about new products, new services, and academic information.

As a result, new Internet-based Web sites and marketplaces now exist that can enable the most computer-shy dentists and their staffs to easily take advantage of product comparisons, promotions, and new items - a whole world of shopping options for the over 700 items integral to every dental practice.

For example, Dexpo, a simple-to-navigate Web site that recently has come on-line, makes the process even easier by providing a "Shopping Mall of Products." Dexpo provides a bias-free bazaar environment, populated by a vast array of products and services, manufacturers and distributors, numerous promotions and discounts, and continuing-education programs at one address that is only an Internet connection away.

Jeff Goodman is president of Dexpo, Inc., and founder of the new Web service. He points out that Internet shopping can be a strong advantage for dentists who typically are exposed to only 10 to 15 percent of the product promotions on the market, due to time constraints, geography, and practice demands.

Goodman suggests dentists look for Web services that offer access to:

> Seller`s auctions that cite product sales available within a specific schedule. Dentists would indicate the items and increments that they are interested in, set their minimum-bid prices, and log off the Internet. Then, at any time during the five-day auction period, they can log on and view the price changes on the multiple items they have selected.

> Deals that list special offers available each month, including new products available for a free evaluation. This could include such products as new composites, gloves, and surface disinfectants. Interested buyers could click on a listing to view product specifics and a visual, then place an order for the special. At any given time, a dentist usually knows about only 15 percent of the serious promotions available on price-driven specialty products and frequently-purchased products. Sellers often have excess products to move and will sell such items at a discounted rate or bundle them with a new product at a lower price. Just taking advantage of "buy two, get one free" offers can net a 33-percent savings to the dentist-shopper.

> Market-research opportunities that seek dentists to participate in clinician-trial programs in return for free samples.

> Electronic classifieds that feature display and text ads marketing the sale of practices, used equipment, and other items, as well as dental positions available.

> Dentist-to-manufacturer requests that enable dentists to input requests for information, samples, sales calls, etc.

> A continuing-education program that includes numerous approved and licensed-course options.

> A rating system that invites dentists to evaluate manufacturers and distributors in terms of service and delivery. At the same time, this rating information would be available to the dentist to review his or her peers` entries to help gauge the performance level of these providers.

Reluctant to change?

Beyond nervousness about technology, the most common concern voiced by any audience shopping the Internet is that of credit-card-number security. Typically, Web sites with products and/or services to sell are secured by a purchasing-security firm such as Cybercash. However, recognizing this reluctance, some Web sites keep the purchasing function at arm`s length, handling this through purchase orders, checks, and other external transactions.

A purchase order can be sent to the manufacturer/distributor when a customer makes a selection, and a confirmation e-mailed to the dental office. The vendor then could contact the dental office to arrange shipment, payment, and credit terms. This approach also ensures that the dental office can take advantage of warranties and return policies offered by the sellers.

Continuing education

Searching the "Net" for information, research, and articles is a regular activity for library-goers, school children, and hobby enthusiasts. Continuing education via the Internet was the next logical step. Today, continuing education (CE) programs abound on the Internet, addressing all areas of specialty and designed for all audiences. These programs are gaining increasing acceptance, even from those shying from purchasing activities

Dr. Joseph R. Greenberg, a periodontal prosthodontist in Philadelphia, is spearheading development of Dexpo`s CE program, which will be on-line in January of 1999. According to Dr. Greenberg, dentists, hygienists, and dental-laboratory technicians can use the Internet to select from quality course materials, read or download articles, test their knowledge for credits, and download their certificates of completion in the comfort of their office or home.

"Anyone entering a continuing-education environment wants accurate and useful information," explains Dr. Greenberg, who is a member of the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry, a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, and lecturer and director of several continuing-education programs. "But, they are much more apt to extract value from an entertaining session in which the speaker is talented, expressive, and presents the information well visually and verbally. Dentists who have this kind of experience with Internet CE programs will direct others to the courses."

He added, "We are designing courses that take advantage of the interactivity of the Internet, as well as its video, audio, and animation capabilities."

A continuing-education program could incorporate drastically reduced credit-pricing for dentists in their first, second, and third years of practice. The CE program also could provide Web-site coverage so dental-charitable foundations could tell their stories. Dr. Greenberg also believes in creating a unified Web site that brings together the dental industry, dental technology, dental distributors/dealers, and dentists.

OToo often, we?ve all worked in opposition,O he noted. OWithout question, dentistry could be a lot stronger if we can establish a forum in which we can work together.O

Other industries already are e-commerce savvy. Seventeen percent of non-institutional stock purchases are conducted on the Net, over 100,000 quotes for cars are provided monthly, and, last year alone, 10 million Americans and Canadians completed a Web-based purchase. Users are responding!

A recent issue of Time magazine stated that book-buying sites, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are competing for the title OThe Earth?s Biggest Bookstore.O Eddie Bauer?s on-line operation is growing 300 to 500 percent a year, and Spiegel catalog?s net accounts have grown five-fold or more over the past three years. In the next three years, statistics indicate that 80 percent of America?s highly educated population ? earning over $100,000 annually ? will be utilizing the conveniences of e-commerce.

When $1,000 can purchase an Internet-compatible computer, the time and labor-savings available alone can make this purchase pay off immediately. This is the logical next step for improving practice economics.