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The future of DSOs: Technology, performance, and growth trends

May 15, 2017
Technology is a must-have for dental offices, whether the dentists are sole practitioners or part of a Dental Service Organization (DSO). With multiple practices, integrated technology in the cloud is more important than ever.

Technology is a must-have for dental offices, whether the dentists are sole practitioners or part of a Dental Service Organization (DSO). With multiple practices, integrated technology in the cloud is more important than ever.

New technology has ushered in an exciting era of instant accessibility and performance for today’s dental professionals. For the growing number of dental practitioners turning to dental service organizations (DSOs), technology is a must-have to ensure patient care, enterprise performance, and the ever-growing number of HIPAA requirements.

Growth breeds complexity for DSOs
But new technology comes at a hefty cost, both in terms of capital and human resource. DSOs have struggled to find solutions that can handle the considerable complexity and regulatory compliance needs of a dental group. This burden is further complicated by the myriad hardware and other issues that arise as practices merge into DSOs.

Complexities and tech headaches aside, group practices are here to stay. As insurance landscapes, dentist demographics, market competition, and other factors hold sway, it continues to make smart market sense to share the costs of good dental practice in the form of a DSO. The challenge? Managing the technology needed to serve a growing DSO practice.

The technology checklist
Dental practices use a dizzying array of technologies for business practices and patient care. For health-care-trained dentists committed to excellence in patient care, the list of technologies can be daunting.
Hardware—Computers, digital x-rays, cameras, intraoral cameras, imaging tools, laptops, tablets, network, server
• Clinical software applications—
Charting, imaging, diagnosis and treatment, patient education
• Administrative software applications—
Word processing, spreadsheets, email, backup management, scheduling, patient records, insurance claims, human resouces, accounting

Don’t forget HIPAA
To top it all off, all practices must be compliant with HIPAA’s 75 security controls to ensure that applications, databases, and systems adequately protect and secure electronic patient records. It’s no great surprise, then, that nine out of 10 DSOs have aging hardware that’s not in compliance. Many also don’t fully understand what it takes to be in compliance. This is where cloud technology comes in.

But really, what IS the cloud?
For the average layperson, “the cloud” is simply another term for the Internet. But for today’s DSO, what are the impacts of both partial and complete cloud technologies? The partial cloud is one piece among the 10 or more components that might be used to run a practice, which means that you still have the joy of tying all those components together. Just look at the technology checklist above; many DSOs use stand-alone solutions and haven’t figured out a way to get all the hardware and software into one system that is fully-redundant and backed up in the cloud. If you’re operating more than one location, your locations are operating in silos. It’s very difficult to provide excellent customer service in this situation.

The complete cloud gives DSOs a secure, fully-integrated, and fully-managed environment. The complete cloud allows the group practice to continue using the applications and processes they’re accustomed to, while giving them access to all patient records, scheduling, billing, and other data from any online device at any one location as well as across all locations. A complete cloud solution solves HIPAA compliance issues. The complete cloud provides regulatory compliance that any group or private practice would find daunting and cost prohibitive to emulate.

The cloud at work: real world case studies
Consider one example. A Pennsylvania dental group realized on a Sunday that, due to an epic snowstorm, offices would be closed on Monday. Because the group had transitioned to a complete cloud system with data backed into a secure third-party data center, they were able to contact the 60 patients scheduled for treatment on Monday and easily reschedule them. Staff did not have to travel to the office in inclement weather, and patients’ safety and convenience were safeguarded.

Due diligence still required
However, finding a technologist does not excuse a DSO from due diligence. It’s important to make sure that any cloud resource delivers the following—understanding of DSO industry, regulatory and compliance requirements, and best-practices designed to protect the business and data.

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Jason Post is CEO and founder of MBS Secure. A computer engineer and technology designer who has worked with IBM and Mercedes Benz, he has over 20 years of experience in medical, dental, and business technology innovation.