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Managing Procurement for a DSO in Growth Mode

Abigail Castro, GPS Dental procurement specialist, helps practices continue operations without interruption while keeping costs down.

DSOPro: How did you get involved in procurement and in dentistry? 

Actually, dentistry is the only industry I’ve ever been in, starting about 12 years ago. I grew up in The Colony, Texas. During my senior year in high school, I went to school in the morning and then worked in the front office of a dental practice in my neighborhood in the afternoons and on weekends. I learned a little about the front office but decided I wanted to do more of the account audit types of things. After I graduated, they started training me in dental assisting, so I did a little bit of that as well. 

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I worked for a few other dental offices in the North Dallas area, learning different things at each of them. I got certified to do coronal polishing, but then realized I was not a fan of working in the back. It wasn’t for me. So, I went back to the front office, doing treatment planning and handling the financing side. Next, I moved back to my hometown, and returned to work in the same office where I first started in the industry, where I went into office management.

I started going to college while I was managing that office and got my bachelor’s degree. When I graduated, I decided I wanted to move into the corporate side of things, so I started doing finance for a very small DSO (A32 Dental Management). Then I realized it was kind of boring and thought I would try procurement while I finished my master’s degree. I soon realized I had found my niche! Procurement is what I love to do. I really don’t see myself ever leaving the industry or working outside of procurement.

DSOPro: What DSOs were you working with?

I started doing procurement at MB2 Dental, which is based out of Carrollton, Texas, and is very close to my home. When I joined them, they were barely starting to grow their procurement department. They had just hired their chief employee for that department, and I was the first person he hired and the first to be considered “supply” procurement.

DSOPro: What does your job encompass at GPS Dental?

GPS is definitely in growth mode right now. We have 61 practices in about 17 states. In September, we added a ton of new practices. So now we’re able to say that we’re coast to coast.

My title is officially procurement specialist, but I am currently the whole procurement department. One of the important aspects of my job is to look at what our doctors are using in terms of vendors for supplies and for labs. Because we are a very autonomous type of DSO, we don’t force the doctors to narrow down their suppliers. We obviously have ones that we recommend to them, but we are not forcing them to switch. One of my most important responsibilities is to make sure we have decent pricing for our doctors, so they can continue to practice as they were before joining GPS, without any type of interruption. We want them to know we are there to support them and make them aware they can continue to use the vendors they’ve grown to love over time, if that meets the quality of treatment expected of them.

I negotiate with vendors on pricing and to make sure we have the support we need from them—whether that is training for our doctors, dental assistants, and hygienists, or any type of CE for them to make sure that we’re in compliance. I ensure that our vendors understand they need to be available to assist us whenever we’re in need of something or a doctor wants a rep to go into the office and provide more information about a product or let them try it out.

Another part of procurement is doing analyses for our offices. I give the offices recommendations and assess whether they are open to switching some of their products, like maybe to something that is more of a disposable item or that is not so technique sensitive. Some of the offices also reach out to me to ask what they can do to cut costs. Like if they plan to start doing a lot of implants, can I find a better price or get a bulk deal?

One of the big things affecting the industry right now is inflation. Plus, the cost of shipping is skyrocketing. So, I make sure our doctors are aware, if there are thresholds, that they can save money on shipping by combining their orders or get free shipping if they spend a certain amount of money. GPS handles payments for them, so they don’t have to worry about making sure their invoices are paid, or their credit card is good to go.

When practices join GPS, it’s not a major corporate shift, it’s a more “business as usual” thing. Things will become easier and less stressful because we’re here to support them. All they really need to worry about is treating their patients properly and we will handle the rest!

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DSOPro: How do you manage all the different sites? And are you working with regional managers or the clinicians?

We do have an operations department. There is an executive VP, and we have regional directors in the major concentration areas. Under them, we have regional managers. I speak with them pretty much on the daily, but I also make sure that within an office, whether it’s the person doing the ordering or the doctors themselves, that they have a close relationship with me as well. I visit them when I can and make sure to let them know I’m always available by phone, text, and email, so they know whatever they need, I’m there to help. Sometimes a regional may not know the answer, or because they travel so much, they may just not be available. So, if they can’t find something, or they have questions about a vendor, or need me to coordinate something, I can step in.

It is a little bit more challenging working with offices that are more autonomous. We’re managing hundreds of different vendors versus just having a handful of them. Our offices are all general practices currently, so each practice is doing something a little bit different. Some may have niches like endo, implants, or aligners, so we need to be able to support them in any type of specialty.

DSOPro: Are you using some kind of software to keep track of everything?

All of our offices are set up on Dentira once they are passed over to me from the integrations department. We link all of their vendors and take them through Dentira training so they can access everything in one place. On my end, it’s a super easy way for me to track anything from volume of vendors to shipping costs, order frequency, if they are using our recommended products, or who’s doing better at what, etc. It’s a really easy to keep track of their analytics. It also makes it really simple for them because their order history is there, and they can easily reorder without having to open 20 different tabs to place orders with all their different vendors.

DSOPro: What are some of your other considerations when choosing a vendor?

When I’m vetting a vendor, I want to make sure they have the bandwidth to handle a DSO. At 61 offices, we’re about mid-level, but we want to ensure that vendors will have the supplies and staff to take care of us as we grow. We don’t want to get back ordered.

I also want to ensure someone will always be available if issues come up, like we need to track an order, or an office needs something, or if there is a question on a product. We’re also looking at how they will support the practices, like whether they offer lunch and learns, or go to a practice and train the doctors and team members and answer any questions they may have about their products.

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DSOPro: As a procurement specialist, how do you stay on top of all the products?

It involves a lot of research. Networking and keeping in contact with people is also great. It is especially beneficial to go to some of the shows, like the DSO Leadership Summit, because you meet a lot of people, see what they’re doing, and what’s working for them. LinkedIn is also amazing. I am constantly on LinkedIn because I can learn when there is an innovation. People are always posting about new products and about what their practices are doing. So, it keeps me on my toes and helps me make sure that we’re keeping up.

DSOPro: What kinds of trends are you seeing in procurement?

As more and more DSOs are popping up, we’re seeing fewer of them having a top-down type management. Practices are more autonomous, they’re able to choose their labs and their vendors. It isn’t like it used to be, where it was a big volume commitment type of thing. Now DSOs are having to be a little less conservative on that front, and a little bit more open to taking a chance on some of these products or vendors.

Many vendors were also hesitant about procurement platforms, like Dentira or CureMint. But that is where the industry is going. DSOs are creating procurement departments, and one of the first things they do is get everyone on a procurement platform. It’s functional for everyone, whether it’s the corporate office or the individual practice. A lot of the vendors who used to avoid integrating into it are now seeing they have to if they want to keep DSO business.

I’m also seeing how big AI is getting. Using that is something I think we will all eventually have to move to, maybe within the next 5 years or so. I think everything will be backed up in some sort of way by AI. This would be great, because obviously computers make fewer mistakes than humans do. It’s definitely good to have something there as a backup for us. And it’s more efficient. Doctors will benefit from having AI to back up their treatment plans and increase patient compliance.

As AI becomes more prevalent, I’m sure it will be doing something analytical within procurement, like pull together all this data and show you trends. That would be so amazing! Currently, at the end of every month, I create a monthly metrics report that I send to all 61 offices. I do every one of them manually. It takes me a week or so to do them all. But if we had an AI system that would just pull that data and put it in the format, that would be such a time-saver.

DSOPro: Any additional thoughts?

It’s important to be part of a GPO, to have that support, especially if you’re a smaller DSO or a single practice. It’s definitely a great idea to have that relationship and to choose one GPO to work with to help you with procurement. Whether it’s line-by-line items, or private consulting, or even if you’re just too busy and you don’t have enough support staff.

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About Abigail Castro


Abigail Castro is a Procurement Specialist at GPS Dental with over 10 years of experience in the dental industry. She enjoys finding new innovations and expanding her expertise in the field. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business finance and a master’s degree in international business but her true passion is procurement. When she is not negotiating a great deal, she enjoys finding new places to brunch with friends and spending time with her dog.

GPS Dental

Guided Practice Solutions is a Dental Service Organization that was founded with one goal in mind: to assist with the smooth transition of dental practice ownership. As dentists themselves, Drs. Smith and Little understand the day-to-day responsibilities of running a dental office and what dental professionals need from a DSO. We strive to provide clinical autonomy for providers, to improve each practice’s systems, and help dentists provide enhanced experiences for their patients.

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