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I find the China debate to be very interesting yet perplexing. Some continue to believe that the problems faced by today's lab owners are in some measure due to the Chinese. This is akin to standing at the plate and taking a called strike while swatting a gnat. If we don't keep our eyes on the ball, the game will be over before we realized what happened.
While some dental laboratories might be adversely affected by offshore products, pricing pressures are occurring industry-wide and are mostly coming from the insurance industry. Specifically, the insurance industry has depressed reimbursements to the point that many dental offices are fighting to keep their doors open. As a result, price pressures continuing downstream are falling on every domestic dental laboratory and manufacturer. Blessed with a bad economy, the insurance companies are continuing to promise purchasers even lower prices in the future while their margins remain healthy. All that, combined with inefficient laboratory business models, and we have a called strike!
But the insurance companies are not entirely to blame. Dental industry silence plays a role and it comes in the absence of a unified voice sounding a singular purpose. The insurance companies have branded themselves with a single purpose cost control and now are the gateways for dental care, while we have done little.
Despite the excellent leadership offered by dentist, laboratory and manufacturer organizations, the industry as a whole has been ineffective as guardians of care services. While each disparate organization has been tending to the unique needs of its members, we have failed to brand ourselves as the gateway and best keepers for patient care.
As a result, the insurance industry has filled the void, wedged itself between patients and dentists, de-branded the profession and marginalized the entire dental industry. Today, the insurance industry defines itself as the keepers of quality care and the agents for dentist credentialing. It has presented itself as the "good cop" to protect beneficiaries from potential abuse and as the expert in keeping costs to a minimum. Today, thanks to our slumbering, consumers seek their dentists through insurance company websites, a clear indication of how the care brand is owned and controlled by a force we have failed to reckon with.
The net result affects each sector of our industry in destructive ways and leaves consumers vulnerable to those with no experience in care delivery. I suggest a meeting of representative leadership from the aforementioned organizations to help develop a unified voice and message, and a strategy with which to deliver it, something OPT-In a national cooperative of small laboratories is currently working on.
Let's take our eyes off the gnat and prepare for the next pitch. That's the only way to have any chance of remaining in the game.
Dean Mersky, DDS Founder, OPT-In Dental Lab Cooperative
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