Analysis: What dentists are searching for online to manage their patient records

Data suggest dentists are dissatisfied with EHRs, looking to upgrade.

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Editor’s note: This article was updated on 2/12/15. Additional information can be found below.

A recent study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) sampled 729 practitioner-investigators (P-Is)1 in Scandinavia and the U.S. about their use of a computer to manage patient information. The study found that 73.8% of solo and 78.7% of group practitioners now use a computer to manage some patient information. Based on those figures, you might assume the overall market for computer software for patient information management is contracting (i.e., demand is decreasing because of saturation in the market). However, our own data suggest otherwise.

My organization, TechnologyAdvice, helps medical software buyers find the right software programs. One of the tools on our site is an application called the Product Selection Tool. This tool allows providers to filter software based on specific criteria, such as integrations or features. As a byproduct of this, we’ve collected a fair amount of data. For our medical software data, this includes information such as medical specialty, features, practice size, and more.

Dreamstime S 13151688Due to the high adoption rates of computers to manage patient information, as indicated by the JADA study, you might expect dentists to be at or near the bottom when it comes to traffic on our Product Selection Tool. In fact, dentists are in the top ten specialties that we see coming to our site, and are in the top five for users looking for ONC-certified electronic health records (EHR) software. Only primary care, mental and behavioral health, chiropractic, and cardiology are ahead of them.

This data, combined with the ADA study, suggests that while many dentists are using software to help manage their patients and practice, many dentists are dissatisfied with the systems they already have, or at least looking to move up to an ONC-certified EHR.

Based on our data and provider interviews, many dentists are worried about HIPAA, specifically data security. There is a 2:1 preference for cloud-based practice management and electronic dental records software, which comes as no surprise. Cloud-based, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) programs put the onus of data security on the vendor, not the dental office. It’s still important for the provider to ensure that each user has a unique login ID and that any on-site backups are secure, but the cloud-based software vendors are at fault for any physical or electronic security breaches. Though the total cost of ownership of a subscription-based, cloud-based software system is usually higher than a comparable on-premise solution, it’s difficult to put a price on the peace of mind provided by shifting such responsibility to the vendor.

Another benefit of cloud-based software is that it’s usually platform-agnostic, meaning that dentists can choose whatever operating system best suits them. Windows users—specifically Windows XP users—likely remember the mass panic surrounding the April 8, 2014 discontinuation of support by Microsoft. Many respected dentists and HIPAA consultants interpreted this to mean that continuing to use XP on April 9 would put them in violation of the act. Eight months later, many dentists have now upgraded or switched operating systems, taking a “better safe than sorry” approach. If you’re still using XP (according to security firm Kapersky, just under 5% of US computers are) making the switch to a cloud-based software vendor could be an alternative to expensive software and hardware upgrades (although all things being equal, we would advise that providers upgrade to a fully supported operated system).

In short, there are a great many dentists still looking for general, practice management, or electronic dental records software, despite relatively high market penetration. Whether you’re shopping for a system for a new office, or you want to replace an existing solution, a cloud-based system is likely preferable. Of course, no two practices or providers are alike, so do your homework and make sure that whatever system you select works with your processes and your hardware. And, despite doom-and-gloom statements from persons who may or may not have financial incentives for doing so, you don’t have to rush to upgrade. If it works well for you and your patients, there’s no need to upgrade, as long as your personal systems are secure.

Charles SettlesAuthor bio: Charles “Drew” Settles is a Product Analyst at TechnologyAdvice, a technology marketing and research firm dedicated to educating, advising, and connecting buyers and sellers of business technology. In his work, Charles has extensively written and researched topics related to healthcare IT, business intelligence, and other emerging technologies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

1"Practitioner-investigators are defined as dentists and dental hygienists in a Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN) who are engaged in the daily practice of dentistry and dental hygiene in the participating practices of the PBRN network." (Source: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-DE-05-006.html) Additionally, "PBRNs are groups of primary care clinicians and practices working together to answer community-based health care questions and translate research findings into practice. PBRNs engage clinicians in quality improvement activities and an evidence-based culture in primary care practice to improve the health of all Americans." (Source: http://pbrn.ahrq.gov)

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 2/12/15. Changes were made to clarify a distinction between dental electronic health record (EHR) use and the prevalence of generalized software used to manage patient information.

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