by Bill Kimball, DDS
Dot-com failures as far as the cyber-eye can see! Tech stocks down and venture capital all but dried up. Were the skeptics right after all? Is the Internet just a fad? Not a chance! The 'Net has become more powerful, more advanced, and more important than ever before!
Sure it's been a wild ride the last few years, but the next few years will prove to be very exciting as the Internet becomes part of virtually everything we do! New truly useful services, high-speed wireless access, easy-to-use intuitive graphic interfaces, and even renting all our software rather than buying it will all become commonplace.
So what does all this have to do with your practice in 2001? Everything! I believe I could write a book on this subject (Internet marketing, supply ordering, discussion groups, patient education, job boards, continuing education, practice management, specialist and lab communications, etc.), but, by the time it was published, it would be out of date. Let's look at just one major area in which the Internet will affect your practice over the next few years.
The Internet has been hugely successful with two main components up to this point — e-mail and finding information. A third tremendously successful component — the Application Service Provider or ASP — is already popular in other industries and is now poised to move strongly into the dental market. This new technology is available and changing the way businesses use computers.
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as AOL or MSN provides service to you by giving you access to the Internet. An ASP provides service to you by giving you access to software applications such as Microsoft Office 2000 or Quicken without having to purchase the software. In a sense, you rent the software and allow the ASP to do all your upgrades, maintenance, technology fixes, backups, etc., on their computers using their technology experts on their time, at a reduced (and potentially greatly reduced) cost to you.
How about an automatic backup hourly to multiple ultrasafe computers located in different areas of the country under high security? Or working with your business consultants while they review (in real time) all your practice trends, any time of the day or night? What if your management consultant had access to your schedule every day and could keep an eye on every aspect of your management software? What if you could compare your fees to dozens of dentists in your area at any time? Does this sound too good to be true? 2001 is predicted to be the first billion-dollar year for the ASP market, and IDC (a world leader of technology intelligence and industry analysis) predicts the ASP industry will be $7.8 billion by 2004!
Dentists will be attracted to the ASP technology for similar reasons:
- Any time, anywhere, you have access to your practice's data
- Lower upfront cost of implementing new dental software
- Immediate access to upgrades in applications and Internet-based services
- Elimination of in-office server maintenance and management
- Elimination of in-office data backups
- Online patient registration and access to recall information
- Specialist access to images and data
- Unlimited ability to expand
- Reduced hardware and maintenance expenses
- Impressive data security
The dental computer software industry is undergoing huge changes of late. With PracticeWorks' March 2001 acquisition of SoftDent, the company added 20,000 dentist users (12,000 practices). As a result of this acquisition, PracticeWorks now has a customer base of approximately 58,000 doctors! PracticeWorks had previously announced moving to an ASP model in the not-too-distant future. With software vendor PackOnline.com (one of the original ASP practice-management softwares companies) moving out of the practice-management area and PracticeWorks still not rolling out the new ASP, I am aware of only one ASP dental management software on the market today —PracticeConnect. It's available through dentalxchange.com, the most trafficked commercial dental site on the Internet. The company is also rolling out PayerConnect, a companion ASP solution that provides online eligibility verification and benefit plan details.
According to Michael Byrnes, vice president of dentalxchange. com's practice management group, PracticeConnect gives users secure, anywhere, any time access to their practice data via the Internet without purchasing expensive software or hardware. Byrnes was responsible for the acquisition of Dentisoft, a clinical and practice-management system in its seventh version used by 1,300 providers. PracticeConnect is developed by the same team that still enhances Dentisoft. The dental practice pays $199 a month, which includes 24-hour software access, free setup and training, automatic upgrades, and remote backups. In addition to standard features such as patient demographics, insurance information, scheduling, and billing, PracticeConnect includes remote image storage, electronic claims and statements, and real-time, multi-office reports.
The subscription fee also includes development and hosting of a robust Web site to help the practice market its services to patients. Through the Web site, a patient can register online from home and securely provide his or her medical history, dental history, and insurance information. The information is stored in PracticeConnect, shortening patient reception times at your office and eliminating paperwork. PracticeConnect features nearly 200 reports, lists, and graphs, including the 10 or so daily reports run by a typical practice. When requested, new reports can be created and made available to all customers within a day.
"PracticeConnect is the perfect solution for me," says Meredith Levine, DDS, a solo practitioner in Beverly Hills, Calif., who has used the system since October. "If I'm running late at the end of the day and have insurance or billing work to complete, I just log on to PracticeConnect at home. I don't have to spend my days off in the office."
"PracticeConnect can be summed up in three words — simplicity, affordability, and connectivity," says Richard Lee, co-founder and senior vice president of dentalxchange. com. "It gives users the comprehensive practice-management features they expect, with complete data security and no system administration headaches."
The ASPs that offer the best service, reliability, and security will rise to the top. In a brand new market, it behooves the buyer to study and research the options before selecting new software just because it is ASP. Many business ASPs are selling the reduced problems instead of reduced cost at this point. The dental market is open right now for wide variations in pricing. I am excited about ASPs and all they have to offer! The possibilities are limitless.