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Dental does it again

Nov. 23, 2020
When it comes to technology, the dental industry keeps impressing us. In the age of COVID-19, it's time to recognize the impressive benefits that cloud-based practice management platforms are giving us.

Just when I think dentistry can't be more technologically progressive, something comes along to make me reconsider.

I once thought that 3-D pans were the be-all and end-all of dental innovation. But then dentists started doing same-day restorations with CAD/CAM. From there, the progress just kept going. It never stopped. I should probably concede that it never will.

My point? Good for us.

Now comes along the age of Covid, and with it another technology. What is it? I'll tell you, but first let me ask you some questions.

Does your practice operate off a server? Have you ever had to call a tech because that server went down from a weather-related event? Or maybe it failed due to a simple power overload? And have you ever found yourself driving through several inches of snow in terrible conditions to get to your office—because you needed something from your computer? Or what about that machine you have from 1996? You know the one—the computer that's literally embedded in the wall in Op 3? Has it ever gone down and created a communication backlog you just couldn't deal with?

I’m guessing that many of you are saying yes or can at least relate. If so, it's time to get with the times. Today's technology, which has been lifesaving during COVID, is cloud-based practice management software.

You're in the cloud already

These days, information everywhere is stored in the cloud. Your cell phone data is there. So is your banking info. Indeed, cloud storage is nothing new—everyone you do business with is using it. It’s time you stored your practice's business data there too. The benefits are endless, with convenience being at the top of the list. Put another way, upgrading to the cloud gives you freedom.

Rather than using this article to provide a breakdown of each brand's features, strengths, and weaknesses, I'll let you contact your favorite distributor to get the details of their cloud-based options. But we'll hit the highlights here.

The convenience factor

Many of you are on server-based platforms, and those are great. If you're using a server, you essentially have a central base. Your information is stored in-house rather than online—which might be more secure...in theory. The problem is that using a server is like lugging a large safe around with all your possessions. You and all your employees need to go to the office to access files, and you are still susceptible to issues like power failures, server life, storage limitations, and security vulnerabilities.

The advantages of cloud-based practice management software are many. I’ll start with the convenience factor. Imagine if you could get to your files from anywhere and at anytime. And imagine that you had the power to control who has access. Whomever has access can log into the cloud software as easily as visiting a web page. It's exactly like visiting Amazon or Google. The doctor or practice manager can easily block access for anyone else, as you would when you close the actual physical office. Imagine being able to stroll the halls of your office with an iPad, conducting all of your business on the same tablet your customer signed in on.

Say goodbye to stoppages because of old computers. Conducting business is now as easy as accessing a website.

Another wonderful feature that elevates cloud-based platforms is the abundance of information provided all in one place. Server-based systems usually house patient information in different modules. The modules are separate, such as the ones for insurance information, patient scans, dental charts, etc. Compare this to cloud-based platforms, which boast all-inclusive patient screens. All information is visible on one main page, and easy access to other information comes at the click of a button. Multipractice capability? Yeah, it does that too. See all your practice information together or narrow it down to one location, one set of procedures, or even one operatory.

The real-time data factor

Perhaps someday, the server-based platforms will start providing a lot of new features that rival the cloud technology, but they will never compete with the real-time data provided by these systems. Everything from insurance claim issues to user activity is recorded in real time. Want to see who logged in at 4:00 a.m. to do paperwork? It’s there. Want to drill down and see the schedule for Op 3 specifically? Go for it. Want to know if Mr. Jones’ claim was accepted? You don’t have to wait a day anymore to hear about that. It’ll show up as fast as you can say “submit.” Reports are also provided with up-to-the minute data as opposed to monthly or year-end issuance.

One thing to remember with any cloud system you choose is that your performance is only as powerful as your internet service connection. Sure, through cloud-based systems you are relieved of your seemingly constant need for additional storage capacity, but you need to make sure you’re going to be able to get reliable, consistent internet service. That concept also applies to your ability to keep your signal at maximum strength throughout your practice. With all the lead walls created to keep the imaging radiation contained, this is an obvious problem...but with an easy fix. Small equipment to boost the signal in rooms further from the main connection can help with that.

The intuitiveness factor

The intuitiveness of the cloud-based systems is unparalleled. New users barely require training, as the system literally walks you through setup with instructions that rival a live trainer. Reporting is more detailed but better focused, and you can basically customize any report to your liking.

There are new features that, when you see them, will have you gasping. Little items such as expanded options for emailing and attaching files to specialists have been improved, so you don’t need an Outlook account or similar to compose a message. System updates now provide a breakdown in list form of what’s been improved, so you can see exactly what’s gotten better. There are even system options to receive recommend software updates that the majority of your staff will find helpful. Did you just complete an appointment that also reminded you that the office is out of a product? Click the tab to the right, and the program will take you right to your distributor’s shopping page, where you are already logged in and can place it in your shopping cart now before you forget.

As far as the items that might separate one platform from another, cloud-based platforms can have several different programs running within them. The programs available depend on the vendors that work with each distributor. In addition, some will include warranty fees for coverage that you’ve previously paid for separately, which is a huge upside for those paying for claims service or other warranty coverage through the same distributor. If service is a concern, see if the platform comes with a technology service plan so you’ll be in capable hands with people who know the system thoroughly if any issues arise.

The takeaway

Here's the bottom line: If you’re happy with your current program, you might not be persuaded by all of this technology-gushing. However, the server you bought 10 years ago will not go to waste. You can always keep your backup system alive as backup storage, but this shift will probably be completely mainstream in the coming years. Before you buy another server (or buy for the first time), it’s worth a presentation by your local rep. For those who see retirement on the horizon, nothing says "current" like a practice running digitally—like everything else in this world. 

Matthew Newman is the operations manager for the Baltimore/DC/Northern Virginia region of Patterson Dental. A 20-plus year veteran of operational management, he has spent most of his career in the fields of distribution center management and hospitality. He writes articles on operational management, office synergy, and a variety of other topics. He can be reached through direct message on LinkedIn

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About the Author

Matthew Newman

Matthew Newman is the VP of sales operations, marketing and public relations for CAD-Ray North America. a distributor of practical CAD/CAM solutions, and home of the Medit intraoral scanner. A 20-plus year veteran of operational management, he has spent his career in the fields of dental B2B, operations management, and hospitality. Newman writes articles about operational management, office synergy, startups, and a variety of other topics. He can be reached through direct message on LinkedIn.

Updated December 15, 2024