Up in the Cloud

As anyone who has to use technology daily knows (and that applies to everyone reading this article!), technology is a quickly moving target. Technologies that seemed so fresh and new just a few short years ago now seem passé and outdated as newer technologies are emerging. One technology that has emerged recently, which is likely to be around for quite some time, is the concept of cloud computing.

What, exactly, is the cloud? The answer really depends on who you ask. In a recent survey conducted by a dental magazine, doctors were asked “what are the general benefits of using the cloud to manage your practice?” Unfortunately, more than ½ of the respondents said that they don’t know what the cloud is. Many people are unaware that you’ve probably already been using the cloud for years and weren’t aware of it. We use the cloud every day when we access the Internet to shop online, to bank online, to buy a ticket to grandpa’s house, sending mail using gmail, socializing via Facebook, etc.

In its simplest terms, the cloud means web-based applications. To expand on that, it means that the programs that you would normally install and run on your computer are instead installed on high-end servers at another location. To access those programs, you simply need an interface to the data, and in almost all cases, this is a web-browser, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. So, you’re using the Internet to access the programs and files that you want to use.

So, now that you know what the cloud is, what are the benefits of using the cloud? Well, here are just a few that most cloud users already know:

    • You don’t need to install any special software or download any programs. For example, you don’t install Facebook, you just go to Facebook.com, sign in and start using it.
    • You never worry about backing up your data because the data resides on servers somewhere else. Typically, there are multiple copies of these servers all over the country and the world, so the risk of losing your data is very small.
    • Since the only thing you need to access the cloud is a web browser, you don’t need expensive hardware to run it. In many cases, even 5- year-old computers that would choke on modern software would have no problem with cloud-based software.
    • You have the convenience and flexibility to access your data any time of day or night. If you’re shopping online, for example, you can do this when it’s convenient for you rather than what a typical store would be open.
    • There are typically many cost savings with cloud=based software. Rather than a high initial cost to purchase a program, in most cases, there are just affordable monthly subscription costs.
    • Another cost saving would be a decreased need for IT support. You don’t need someone to come in and install software and network the computers to a server, as everything is handled through a web browser.
    • Finally, you can be assured that since the upgrades to the software are handled by the software company, you’ll always have the latest and greatest version of that software.

So, there are obvious benefits to using cloud applications in our non-dental lives…but what about our dental practices? Does the cloud make sense for a dentist? In a word….yes! A well–designed dental cloud application can easily handle all the basic functions of a dental office, such as scheduling, billing, and charting. One area where many dental cloud-based programs have fallen short is the ability to handle real-time management of images such as digital x-rays. However, that is changing as well. As I already mentioned, cloud-based dental programs eliminate many of the hassles of running a modern dental practice, such as software installation, IT support, and not needing to handle data backup or remote access software.

I’m often asked if cloud-based dental software is the future, and my answer is usually no! Why? Because the cloud is here now and has been here for some time. It’s not the future, it’s the present, and dental offices should seriously consider these types of programs if they want to future-proof themselves.