Dentistry Will Emerge Even Stronger: Q&A with Eric Shirley, President Patterson Dental
Q: What’s been the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the supply chain from your perspective?
A: It has been significant, but also hopeful. Let me explain. First of all, the crisis has forced our traditional supply chains to divert infection control production into the medical side of healthcare. That means that we are having to find new sources, qualify those sources to our standards of quality and business health, and secure a place in the production availability of those new sources. Second, because offices are largely closed, the demand for most products has dropped. That means that many of our supply partners have had to take actions like we see in other industries—furloughs, layoffs, and idling plants. However, through it all, I’m hopeful. Some of our infection control partners have invested in new equipment to improve capacity. Some of our partners in other areas have launched new products and technologies. The dental industry continues to work extremely hard.
Q: Will these disruptions fuel an increase in offers of ‘gray market’ products to dentists?
A: There are all kinds of suppliers representing themselves as genuine, high-quality, approved suppliers, and in a lot of cases, they end up either not being what they say they are or they can’t even supply the materials that they offered. So, there’s a level of trust and expertise that I think is really important in our industry.
Companies like Patterson and Henry Schein hold themselves to a high standard of what they represent. The manufacturers that we work with also hold themselves to high-quality and regulatory standards. That chain has served the dental market really well for years and years. We just don’t have issues where patient safety or clinical team safety is compromised because of product safety, and we don’t want this period of time to serve as an opening to companies that don’t have those same standards.
Q: Do you foresee changes in the supplies that practices will need, such as for infection control?
A: Certainly. Different kinds of PPE will be requested, and we are working around the clock to make sure what we offer to our customers is high-quality and reliable. The good news is that a dental environment is already a pretty safe and clean place—I’d much rather be in a dental operatory than a pediatrician’s waiting room. In the short term, you might see a renewed commitment to infection control procedures and to making sure the equipment is up-to-date and working optimally. You’re going to see questions asked about systems such as sterilizers, ultrasonic units, vacuum pumps, compressors—all the things that go into providing a safe environment. There also will be a lot of training, focusing on what a clean and safe environment looks like for you and for your patients.
Q: Considering the pandemic’s impact on the profession, what message would you like to share with dentists?
A: That we know how hard this has been on you. Look, what has become very clear is that dentistry is a vital part of healthcare and is essential to helping us survive things like this. A dental office doesn’t just eliminate pain or improve a person’s smile. I don’t like that this pandemic has minimized the critically important role dentistry plays in our overall health. We don’t hear about the other amazing things the role of dentistry plays, like helping a person maintain a healthy diet or get the right amount of sleep. But as we emerge from this, the many roles dentistry plays in the delivery of healthcare will become abundantly clear. Don’t underestimate the value that you bring to helping us survive this. We are going to emerge better as a result of what we are doing, and dentistry’s role in healthcare will emerge stronger.