The Software Squeeze

Jan. 3, 2002
Is the practice-management buying spree over?

In the last three years, mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs have changed the dental software landscape to the point where dentists may not even know who owns the system they bought a year ago. But, according to an article in the January issue of AGD Impact, the corporate buying sprees may be over.

Many dentists who used software packages that were bought and "sunset" by new companies say they resent what they perceive as bully tactics designed to force them to buy new software. But, according to the companies leading the market, the consolidation was a natural development and will benefit dentists in the long run.

Atlanta-based PracticeWorks, the industry leader, has taken most of the criticism. Under former parent company InfoCure, PracticeWorks quickly became the leading provider of dental practice-management software in the United States, mostly through an ambitious strategy of mergers and acquisitions. From 1998 to 2001, InfoCure purchased 18 software companies. In March 2001, InfoCure spun off PracticeWorks as a freestanding company.

PracticeWorks' acquisitive business plan provided tremendous growth for the company and thinned the ranks of less competitive software manufacturers, but it also raised the ire of dentists. Practitioners who used the software PracticeWorks bought claim the company balked on promises to support those systems. Instead, they say, the company has used the buyouts as leverage to manipulate dentists into buying the PracticeWorks software.

Many of the companies PracticeWorks purchased made more than one product. Of those software packages, PracticeWorks has discontinued, or "sunset," five packages representing less than 1 percent of its user base. According to Chuck Fisk, PracticeWorks national accounts director, those five packages were at least 10 years old and had only a handful of users.

"We are continuing to support packages that may have just disappeared if the original companies had stayed in business," Fisk said.

By the late 1990s, the dental software industry had run its course as a have of small operations, Fisk said. The increased technological demands of the modern dental practice, combined with the advent of Microsoft Windows as the dominant operating system for personal computers, meant small software designers had to develop a whole new product.

"The small companies were on their way out, and that's where we came in," Fisk said. "The dentists were going to have to change anyway, and we provided a comfortable way for them to do it."

The full article, "Software Squeeze," is available on the Academy of General Dentistry Web site, located at