Dental Practice Management Software: Choosing the Right Solution
For many dental practices today, practice management (PM) software programs are essential to their success. While no perfect solution exists because of the constantly changing dynamics of a dental practice, software companies invest significant research and development in order to continually upgrade their products and services to meet the assorted needs of their clients.
Most dental practices already have PM software—a survey conducted in 2010 by the California Healthcare Foundation found that 93% of respondents use it.1 However, according to a 2006 survey on use of technology in the operatory, ie, clinical computing, only about one-fourth (24.6%) of general dentists were using computers chairside.2 Therefore, programs that help dentists transition to a digital patient record that incorporates all of the administrative, clinical, and electronic communication applications into a single system that is secure, cost-effective, intuitive, and open to new and developing applications would be most useful. This is a challenge for software companies, though, because dentistry is still predominately composed of solo practitioners (56%), with an additional 11% having associates and 8% partners,1 and these small businesses have limited resources and varying needs.
There are many practice management solutions from which to choose that will deliver excellent results, depending upon how well the user implements the program’s resources and solutions. Three major corporations provide PM software programs to more than 82% of the desktops in dental practices3: Henry Schein Practice Solutions; Patterson Dental; and Carestream Dental. Other companies supply products to a smaller percentage of the dental market, many of which serve more focused niches.
Assorted Practice Management Solutions
Henry Schein Practice Solutions (www.henryschein.com) has the largest market share of the dental practice management software industry.4 The company’s focus is on providing comprehensive solutions across the full spectrum of dentistry, from dental schools, large multiple-site group practices, and specialty practices, to solo general practitioners. The company offers a variety of independent software programs,5 summarized as follows:
• Dentrix® G5: the most recent version of the company’s flagship server-based practice management system for general dentistry. It also serves as an app platform for running third-party applications that integrate into the new Dentrix database.
• Easy Dental®: a budget-conscious, server-based practice management system designed to enable dentists to add new functionality as their practice grows.
• Viive™: a complete practice management system designed for Macintosh computers.
• AxiUm: a complete clinic management system used in dental schools and institutions.
• Dentrix® Ascend: a new, cloud-based PM solution.
• DentalVision® Enterprise: a scalable architecture solution with custom programming and flexible reporting tools for the multi-doctor, multi-specialty, and multi-practice environment.
• OMSVision®, EndoVision®, and PerioVision®: specialty-specific practice management systems that also deliver a certification-ready electronic health record (EHR).
Patterson Dental’s (www.pattersondental.com) focus in PM software is more centralized, offering one system for general dentistry and one for specialty providers.6 Patterson’s philosophy appears to be analogous to Apple, providing a seamlessly integrated solution with limited options that are designed to specifically function within the program. Users do have the option of bridging to other products, but it involves a separate database. The company’s PM software options are as follows:
• Eaglesoft: one system designed to manage the entire practice. The system can be personalized using flexible customization capabilities that enable practices to organize information the way they like it. Eaglesoft also has a direct integration option with certain products so the practice can have a single database as its digital patient record. Technology partners are Schick, Dolphin, Caesy, Revenue Well, Sirona, and Patterson Dental for hardware needs.
• Dolphin Imaging & Management Solutions: a full-featured orthodontic practice management system; especially suited for high-volume and/or multiple-location practices.
• Dolphin Cloud: a comprehensive web-based service that includes the entire Dolphin Imaging & Management product online without the need for a local server. It enables sharing of 2-D and 3-D images, x-rays, notes, and other information with referrals and patients.
In 2007, Onex Corporation, Toronto, Canada, purchased Eastman Kodak’s Health Group and founded Carestream Health7 as an independent subsidiary. Carestream Health owns more than 1,000 patents for medical and dental imaging and information technology. Carestream Dental (www.carestreamdental.com),8 which has a direct sales force instead of a dealer network, manufactures all of its own imaging systems and is thus able to integrate imaging software into practice management software that provides enhanced flexibility and patient file details. This is especially important with the more recent demands on 3-D image management. Carestream Dental’s dental PM solutions include:
• CS PracticeWorks: features a full suite of automated tools to help promote efficiency, making it well suited for single-doctor practices/offices that pay associates based on production.
• CS SoftDent: designed for multi-doctor practices, offering in-depth reporting capabilities.
• CS WinOMS: specifically designed as a hub for oral and maxillofacial surgeons. The company also recently introduced a cloud version of this software, CS WinOMS Cloud.
• OrthoTrac: a user-friendly system for orthodontic practices that tracks appointments, clinical information, billing, and patient correspondences with automated tools.
• CS OrthoTrac Cloud: designed to fit seamlessly into an orthodontic practice’s existing system, enabling orthodontists to access patient files—including images—in real-time from any web-connected location.
Several other companies serve more niche-focused areas of the dental market. Curve Dental (www.curvedental.com), for example, focuses only on web-based dental practice management solutions, offering a complete solution9 called Curve Hero. Obvious advantages for cloud-based applications include the elimination of hardware glitches, data backup, server issues, and upgrades. Needing only Internet access to connect to the database simplifies hardware requirements and IT support. Imaging software is built into Curve Hero, incorporating most intraoral cameras, phosphor plate imaging systems, and many of the current digital sensors.
MOGO, Inc.’s (www.mogo.com) sole business is to provide dentists and specialists a single, complete integrated clinical and administrative practice management solution.10 There are no separate bundles to purchase. MOGO offers a full selection of interfaces for utilizing digital imaging. Its open-architecture design allows practices to choose a direct interface or bridge and use multiple brand names. With six directly integrated interfaces and more than 20 bridges, MOGO is able to continually add tools as the market grows. Due out this winter, Version 17 of MOGO’s software will come in two forms: MOGO Windows for client/server format, or MOGO Cloud for web-based format.
Another company of note is QSI (www.qsidental.com), which develops and sells EHR software and practice management systems to the healthcare industry.11 Its niche has been to serve more than 2,200 dental group practices with multiple doctors and multiple locations, transitioning them from client/server systems to web-based solutions.
Challenges to Consider
There are some general issues that dental practices looking to invest in PM software need to consider. Many practitioners want to know if the software will provide intuitive steps to carry out functions and enable the staff to learn quickly. Each company considers its solution to be intuitive and its format for training user friendly, but this mostly depends on the purchaser’s comfort with the program. Training, in general, has been simplified with the advent of live and recorded webcasts, making it readily available.
Practitioners are also concerned about whether the platform of the hardware and software will allow for future expansion and integration of various technologies easily enough. The rapid pace of growth of hardware and software solutions in dentistry has certainly created some havoc for dental practices. This is where web-based solutions offer an advantage, because they eliminate the need for in-house servers, and upgrades are performed transparently in the cloud. The biggest challenge for web-based solutions today is 3-D image management. All of the aforementioned companies offer at least one cloud-based PM solution, which indicates that the drive to the cloud will continue. The hardware and software issues that have persisted in dentistry are likely to remain a challenge, especially for client/server solutions.
Dentists are wearing many hats in their practices these days and are looking for solutions that will help them become more efficient. Their expectations for effective technology are growing, while their tolerance for “glitches” in the systems is waning. There are many PM software products from which to choose, and making the right selection is critical.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Claudio M. Levato, DDS
Fellow, American College of Dentists, International Academy of Dental Facial Esthetics, Odontographic Society of Chicago, and International Congress of Oral Implantologists; Private Practice, Bloomingdale, Illinois
1. Loeb P, McGibony R, Yeung P. Health information technology in California dental practices: survey findings. California HealthCare Foundation. http://www.chcf.org/~/media/MEDIA%20LIBRARY%20Files/PDF/H/PDF%20HealthITInCADentalPracticesSnapshot.pdf. August 2010. Accessed September 27, 2013.
2. Schleyer TK, Thyvalikakath TP, Spallek H, et al. Clinical computing in general dentistry. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2006;13(3):344-352.
3. Levato CM. Management systems: the glue that holds a practice together. Compend Contin Educ Dent. 2011;32(spec iss 4):10-12.
4. Henry Schein. Wikipedia Web site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Schein. Updated April 29, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
5. Manage your practice. Henry Schein Dental Web site. http://www.henryschein.com/us-en/Dental/PracticeSolutions/ManagingPrac.aspx. Accessed September 27, 2013.
6. Practice management overview. Patterson Dental Web site. http://www.pattersondental.com/Technology/PracticeManagement. Accessed September 27, 2013.
7. Carestream Health. Wikipedia Web site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carestream_Health. Updated September 3, 2013. Accessed September 27, 2013.
8. Practice management. Carestream Dental Web site. http://www.carestreamdental.com/us/en/practicemanagement?fromMenu=true. Accessed September 27, 2013.
9. Curve Dental. Curve Dental Web site. http://www.curvedental.com. Accessed September 27, 2013.
10. Key features of MOGO. MOGO website. http://www.mogo.com/features.shtml. Accessed September 27, 2013.
11. QSI Dental. QSI Dental Web site. http://www.qsidental.com. Accessed September 27, 2013.