Optimizing Dental Inventory Management using QR Code Technology

April 29, 2024

Imagine a world where managing dental inventory becomes not just easy, but thrillingly efficient. Even with nine years of experience under our belts, we're still discovering new ways to streamline and organize. In this article, get ready to delve deep into the latest game-changing update: the integration of QR codes across three distinct dental offices (Georgetown Elite Dental, Prime Time Dentistry, Holman Family Dentistry), all powered by the cutting-edge ZenOne platform. And here's the kicker—it's accessible to users on both iOS and Android devices. Let's uncover how this innovative approach is revolutionizing dental inventory management!

Why should dental practices consider implementing QR code inventory management?

Given the high cost of dental supplies and the ongoing challenge of dealing with expired products, optimizing inventory is crucial for these practices. The concept of Just-In-Time (JIT) Inventory, where you maintain stock levels for just two weeks' worth of supplies, has been a game-changer in inventory management.

Imagine having exactly what you need, precisely when you need it—neither too early nor too late. In dentistry, where scheduling can be unpredictable due to various procedures and complications, achieving true JIT Inventory is challenging but immensely powerful. While dental practices often need a bit more buffer than a strict two-week supply, the discipline of purchasing and maintaining supplies on such a tight schedule offers significant benefits.

To make JIT Inventory work effectively, you must rely on several key factors:

  • In-store inventory system: Understanding your stock levels and setting desired levels for each product.
  • Strong vendor relationships: Building connections with reliable and price-competitive suppliers beyond just the top few.
  • Effective office communication: Ensuring that no small item or detail slips through the cracks. This can be managed with something as simple as a rubber band tag system or more sophisticated QR codes, as long as everyone adheres to the process.

Benefits of JIT Inventory:

  • Cost savings
  • Increased efficiency
  • Improved cash flow
  • Reduced waste

Challenges of JIT Inventory:

  • Supply chain risks
  • Limited flexibility
  • Dependency on supplier relationships
  • Time-consuming inventory tracking
  • Need for skilled team members to manage inventory controls

By embracing modern tools like QR codes for inventory management, dental practices can streamline operations, reduce costs, and ensure that they always have the right supplies at the right time, ultimately leading to better patient care and practice efficiency.



Let’s look into the difference of QR Codes versus Barcodes

Barcodes have long been a stalwart of industry, simplifying inventory management. They offer efficiency but lack durability, a significant downside for sensitive environments like dental practices. Enter QR codes, the stalwart of modern technology since the 90s. They offer enhanced security, capacity for more information, and resilience—up to 30% damage and still scan beautifully.

The advantages of QR codes over barcodes are compelling:

  • QR codes store more data.
  • They withstand damage better.
  • QR codes can be scanned from any angle, not just head-on.
  • They're accessible, readable with a simple phone scan.

Now, let’s pivot to the realm of handheld devices versus mobile phones. Here’s a quick dive into their pros and cons.

Handheld devices:

  • Limited functionality for adjusting quantities.
  • Prone to being misplaced.

Mobile phones:

  • Multifunctional with app-based scanning capabilities.
  • Ubiquitous and less likely to be misplaced.

Reference: Triton Store Australia (read more

Let’s go through some of the Implementation Challenges

Our initial idea was straightforward: since every dental assistant has a phone, we should develop an app with a scanner. However, this raised several important questions:

  • Where would people typically store printed QR codes?
  • What should be the size of the QR codes—text included or just the QR code itself?
  • Are the QR codes linked to the distributor's product or the manufacturer's?

Having settled on QR codes for their reliability and durability, we aimed to implement a scanner through a mobile app, connect it to our inventory list, and test it out. By linking QR codes to the manufacturer, we wanted to allow users to buy the same products from different suppliers without the need to print new QR codes. This approach also offers flexibility in ordering from any supplier and helps avoid waiting for backordered items.

During our initial release, we encountered a significant issue—the app took too long to scan the QR codes printed on 1”x2 ⅝” labels due to their small size. We faced a choice: enlarge the QR codes or improve the scanner. We opted for the latter. It was crucial to keep QR codes within 1” to allow easy application on shelves, TipOut Bins, drawers, and other storage areas.

In the next release, we introduced continuous scanning (allowing multiple QR codes to be scanned without interruptions), enhanced camera focus, and the ability to review scanned products to confirm quantities and add them to the cart. While this garnered a better response, it still fell short of perfection. Scanning remained slower than expected and demanded more precision. Our engineers then revamped the app, integrating native cameras for improved performance. After several days of rebuilding, we updated the app, and the difference was night and day—scanning was nearly instantaneous, and continuous mode truly became continuous.

After three months of developing our Inventory Control solution using QR codes, we acknowledge that there's still much to refine and improve. Nevertheless, the early signs and enthusiasm from the industry are highly motivating.

You can view a short clip from Prime Time Dentistry here.

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