In Search of an Added Value Lab Partner – The ‘Brands behind the Brand’

The traditional dentist/lab relationship is shifting. There are more historic precedents than we could count, where traditional ‘client/supplier’ relationships and supply chain dynamics have been disrupted, or re-defined.

From a dental practice or lab perspective the past holds many clues to the future and the future looks bright for both if the respective participants take the time to assess precisely how their relationship compliments each other’s business model.

The presence of high volume, low cost manufacturing ‘solutions’ to the higher end, boutique continuum is not an either/or proposition. A dental practice needs to answer the market segmentation question, ‘whom do we wish to serve’? The lab needs to answer, ‘how do I fit into my preferred clients’ business model’?

New labs may emerge, others will disappear, but at the end of the day, a smart lab and a smart dental practice will collaborate to provide patient care as efficiently and professionally as possible.

After 25 years of working with clients of all sizes and descriptions, we would like to offer some basic tips to help you in either the search for a new lab, or to simply evaluate your existing lab relationships.

 Questions to Ask in Choosing or Evaluating a Lab:

  1. Will a new lab/my lab help grow my business?

Do you and your lab have a clear understanding of  your respective business models?  Is your market focus and customer segmentation aligned with your labs ability to deliver?
Your lab should be adding value to your practice, not overhead. They should do whatever they can to help you earn the trust of your patients, your team and your business needs. At the end of the day your lab should be offering exceptional craftsmanship, attentive care and forthright advice most relevant to you.

  1. Who is at the helm?

Is your primary contact at the other end of a 1-800 number, or can you meet the leadership team face-to-face? What is their educational/training CV and reputation in the marketplace. Do they have a first class ‘Dental IQ’?  Have you toured their facility? An open-door policy is important.

  1. What are the qualities that make up the team at your lab?

A successful lab requires diverse backgrounds and skill-sets. Ideally, your technician’s have abilities to cross-over from one area of specialization to another to provide a productivity cushion when someone is away, ill, or leaves. Also, assess the depth of the non-technical resources admin, support, processes and systems.

  1. How does your lab manage workflow?

Healthcare management has seen a renaissance in software. Does your workflow structure match your lab’s? Are their technology platform and digital capabilities able to help you avoid unnecessary capital investments, reduce turnaround time, provide consistent quality and  cost management.

  1. Quality Control – In the end, it’s all about the patient

Does your lab track remakes? It’s important that technicians look in the rear-view mirror and assess cases that didn’t go well so they can improve on their technique. Can your lab provide you with data regarding remakes? Do you communicate clearly in isolating causes and solutions. Quality and consistency are key to providing a reliable product, and tracking the cases that didn’t go well is an important piece of the quality control puzzle.

  1. Will I get my case on time?

Does your lab respect deadlines? What is their turnover record? Do they understand that scheduling an appointment with a patient is akin to a promise? It’s not an oil change. It’s a procedure that requires staff and resource allocation, planning on your part and your patient’s. If the case isn’t ready a cascade of complications arise. Your patient won’t cast doubt on your lab, they’ll cast doubt on your ability to deliver on a promise.

  1. Is anybody home?

Is your lab willing to listen when you call? You’ve been with your patient and have feedback to offer. Will someone take your call and listen to your concerns? And, conversely, will they pick up the phone and call if they have questions about your case? If you call the lab seeking specifics about the timeline for a case the answer should be accurate and honest, even if it means they’ve hit a snag. It’s how you plan your work flow, your lab should respect that.

  1. Does the lab have a strong employee culture?

This is the “X” factor. What is the culture in your lab? Do the technicians feel like cogs in a wheel or part of an engaged team? A strong team works together, keeping their eyes, ears and minds open to possible improvements and know they’ll be heard if they come forward with their suggestions.

  1. Where does the buck stop?

Your lab should have a transparent pricing schedule. You don’t get to move the goalposts on your patients. Your lab shouldn’t move the goalposts on you without a strong rationale. And the adage, ‘you get what you pay for’ is key to understanding quality standards and the expectations of patient oral health outcomes.

  1. What if I want to push the envelope?

Do you have an innovative solution to a new or old problem? Your lab should be willing to collaborate, experiment and work with you to see it through.  This includes strong working relationships with other vendors, OEM’s and suppliers of new products and materials. They have resources and industry knowledge at their disposal, which can further your goals.

  1. Is there good chemistry between your practice and the lab?

At the end of the day, you, your front line and the lab need to have a comfortable fit and level of trust. The value and power of strong relationships are not based on science. You just know it when it’s there, or not.