August 8, 2013
The choices that dentists have in choosing a practice management software are almost overwhelming. While recent consolidations have reduced the “major players” in this area, there are still dozens of programs from a multitude of players. As different systems are compared, one will see how certain features are handled better on one program than another, while another feature is better on a different program. In other words, there is no one perfect program that is best for each individual dentist. When comparing products, there are a few things that I recommend that you keep in mind:
1. Every program has dozens of bells and whistles, but most dentists end up using only a very small portion of these “features”. There are certain areas of practice management programs that almost all offices use. These include but are not limited to patient registration, scheduling, treatment planning, insurance estimation and processing, recall patient management, and reports of practice parameters, such as production, collections, etc. Every dentist and every practice is unique and each dentist should decide what is important to him or her before you start to research different programs.
2. You must involve your staff in this decision. With the exception of the reports, it is your staff that will be handling all of the administrative functions that the software handles. If they find the program difficult to use, it will be disastrous to your practice. Many dentists are fortunate enough to hire an office manager who has experience with dental software; someone like this can be an invaluable resource for determining the advantages of a particular program.
3. Although most dental software today involves both administrative and clinical features, it is the administrative component that will, in most cases, be the most important part. This does not mean, though, that the clinical functions are not important. It is important that the software you purchase today is capable of working with the software and hardware of hi-tech products.
4. One method that I have found effective is to take either an existing patient or create an imaginary patient and see how the software tracks this patient. In other words, create the patient record, schedule them, create a treatment plan, post treatment to their account, create an insurance form re-schedule the patient, etc. In this case, you can compare “apples-to-apples” when evaluating how software handles this. Keep in mind that you should see how well the software could adapt to how you prefer to see and treat patients. Poorly designed software will force you to change how you practice and process patients and you should avoid this at all costs.
Training, Service and Support
It is very unfortunate that in my experience, the factors that are probably most important when choosing a software package are usually given the least amount of consideration. Most dentists will spend hours evaluating software, choosing features, looking at the price of the program, but will barely even think about the need for training and ongoing support.
Let’s start with training. There is no better way to ensure that your staff never adapts to a software program than to bypass proper training. These software programs are expensive; for many new practitioners, it is quite a “sticker shock”. Unfortunately, many dentists will try to save some money (if they have any left!) by justifying their decision to not spend money for onsite or classroom-based training. Don’t make this mistake. Many of the better software packages include training with purchase of their product, but many do not. In any event, this is one of the best investments you can make. Dental management software programs are large, difficult, and complex; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Having everyone in the office (and, yes, that includes the doctor) up to speed on the software is crucial to ensure that it is rapidly integrated into your practice.
Service and support is the other part of this equation. Many dentists make the mistake of looking at the price of the software and do not factor in the costs of ongoing support. When choosing a support package, you need to ask a number of questions:
1. Does purchase of the program include support during the first year?
2. Are updates to the software included in the first year? How much will updates cost in subsequent years?
3. Is unlimited telephone offered or is it on a per-minute basis?
4. What other means of support ie email, web based, fax, etc are offered?
5. What are the hours for customer service and support?
6. Does purchase of the program include training?
7. Is on-site support offered?
8. Are different levels of support plans offered?
9. How often is the program updated?
10. What are the qualifications of the support staff?
Many practices that are evaluating these decisions will realize that using this guide will help to separate the best systems for your specific office.