The numbers add up for membersof Dental Innovations group
By Peter Watt
Have you ever felt the loneliness of professional isolation? Have you ever had the feeling that you could get a better price on equipment and materials?
Many private practice dentists see this as the price for maintaining their independence and autonomy, and it has led many to surrender that autonomy to corporates and private health insurers. Others, though, are choosing another path that they say gives them the best of both worlds: more buying power and greater profit – and a more collegial environment – while still retaining their independence. In Australia that path takes you to the membership-based commercial network Dental Innovations, previously discussed in the September-October 2014 issue of this magazine.
We spoke to Dr Kamal Raj of Melbourne, who has been with DI for nearly 10 years, and Dr Sam Rogers of Perth, a foundation member since the mid- 1990s, to find out what attracted them to the group, and what their experience has been.
“I liked the idea of being part of a group that could negotiate a better and fairer price when ordering materials,” says Kamal.
Sam: “I wanted the power of bulk buying and the power of numbers. In a small business you don’t have the advantages or the time and energy of a big corporation to shop around and get a good price. I also liked the idea of private dentists getting together in a business sense.”
An individual dentist pays $1,940 a year to be a member of DI, with the rate scaling down in a practice with each additional dentist. Sam and Kamal agree that savings made through DI’s singlesite computerised bulk buying system far outstrip their membership costs, without even putting a value on DI’s other services, among them insurance, business analysis and advice and the members-only chat line, of which more shortly.
“If you do some ordering you will always come out in front,” says Kamal. “I’m saving somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 a year, plus I’ve saved significant amounts on one-off equipment purchases.”
Kamal and Sam both switched to DI’s insurance scheme, Dental Essentials, with no regrets, while Sam also swears by the group’s industrial relations service. In fact he rates highly the overall business benefits of membership.
“Dentists are good business people but they can be better, and the complexities of business now are huge. DI keeps up to date with changes taking place so that members also stay up to date. We need someone with good business acumen behind us because we just don’t have time to look at the finer points of business and we’re not qualified to do that on top of our dental skills.”
Sam and Kamal are big fans of Dental Innovations’ active and lively chat line. Both check it every day to monitor discussions, contributing when it suits them.
“Classically, dentists work on their own. It’s a very lonely business so to speak,” says Kamal, “so to share experiences on a chat line with somebody who has been through it as well … you can’t put a price on that.”
It’s not just about being supportive either, he says. The chat line has a very practical element, with dentists discussing their business and clinical issues as well as sharing product knowledge and combining strategically and quickly on one-off purchases.
“That’s one of the great things about this group,” Kamal says. “It’s not some hierarchy or feudal system of committees and leaders and presidents and whatnot, it’s just us and (DI founder, Managing Director and chat line moderator) Merv Saultry, and we all work together.” For Sam, the biggest thing about being a member of Dental Innovations is that he never feels alone.
“You’ve got other people working with you. DI is already the biggest collective of dentists and it can have a lot of influence on direction of dentistry.”