6 ways to evaluate dental group software

The top six things to keep in mind when considering new practice management software.

We are in the midst of a dental group software revolution. Whether your interests lie in increasing cash flow, maximizing workflow efficiency, handling multiple locations, improving patient care, growing your referral business, becoming more competitive in the marketplace or simply increasing the value of your group, “next-generation” dental software-and specifically dental electronic health records-will help you get there.

New technologies are giving some groups a distinct edge and you can either keep your head in the sand as the industry passes you by or benefit by the revolution in dental group software.

However, as the dental industry moves into a new era of more sophisticated dental software, dental groups are becoming increasingly confused in terms of which way to go, especially in the evaluation and selection of these new technologies.

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Evaluate your short- and long-term needs

When I work with a group and assist in evaluating dental software vendors, the first thing I do is have the selection team members prioritize features that are important. A good way to look at this is to think about features that are truly deal breakers and those that are nice to have but not necessarily critical to the use of the system. An example of a deal breaker might be the ability to display a patient’s medical conditions, or to proactively alert the clinical and administrative staffs when a patient is due for a follow-up procedure, whereas it might just be nice to have a web patient portal.

The prioritization of features is especially important when comparing different vendors regarding specific functions. With a particular software application, you might not get everything you need, and by prioritizing it is easier to determine if a vendor has most of what you deem to be critical. In IT lingo this is referred to as “needs analysis”.

Take charge of your vendor demo

Having specific features and functionality is one thing, but making sure they are easy to use, intuitive and navigable are another. This is the subjective part of the process and where most groups fall short. This is what the vendor demonstration is all about. However, make sure the vendor account reps don’t control the demonstration, showing only what they want to show you, not necessarily answering your questions and overall being in control of the process.

Instead of spending unnecessary time seeing things that might not be critical to your decision making, wouldn't it make more sense for you to take charge and get what you need out of your demonstration? It is important to develop a number of scenarios that represent what you would normally see on a daily basis and use those as the basis of your demonstration.

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Evaluate your vendor’s business

Does the vendor have a track record selling to groups similar to yours in size and specialty? What amount of their revenue do they invest toward research and development, or support? And, when did the vendor you were contemplating purchasing from last have a major update or release? Profiling a vendor’s organization and sales history is something that most groups don't really think about. It is not off base to ask questions pertaining to vendor revenues, history, experience in group practice and any specialty you have, size of support and R&D staff, etc.

 When I work with clients I tend to ask probing questions regarding a vendor’s organization, including financial and revenue pictures. In terms of references, make sure that the reference groups you are given adequately reflect the profile of your group. In addition to finding out how satisfied the references are with the use and operation of the system, it is just as important to find out their experiences with the vendor regarding implementation, training, support and communication.


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Evaluate the underlying technology

Most groups focus solely on software features and functionality-what you can see and hear. If they like what they see and the functionality passes the muster test, then many times a group is comfortable moving ahead with a specific vendor.

However, when I'm hired to help a group evaluate and select their software vendor, I like to put as much importance on how an application is built and performs as how it looks and feels. I have too often seen situations where, at face value, the software looks good, but under the covers has numerous technical flaws or uses “proprietary” technology. You wouldn't buy a Ferrari that was retrofitted with a Volkswagen engine, and you shouldn't purchase dental software that has good features and functionality, but is sorely lacking a solid, standardized, scalable technology.

In the context of this article, we can’t really review all the technical items to consider when comparing vendor systems. But, I hope that I have convinced you that it is critical to consider the technology that an application uses when making this important decision. I understand that a CEO, administrator or dentist might not have all the technical skills to evaluate the underlying technology in a vendor’s software. That's why there are IT geeks in this world and I would encourage you to engage a technical expert, at least for a short while to help in your decision-making.

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Compare implementation and training plans

Have you heard horror stories in which a dental group’s operations were negatively affected during a poor implementation? Or how a group was told by their account rep that their software implementation would take three months, and six months later the system still wasn't working correctly? I was asked by a group dental practice attorney to consult on a lawsuit in which the practice’s dental software vendor botched the implementation so badly that three of the clinics were unable to function normally for several weeks. How detailed an implementation and training project plan is can be an indication of the potential for success. If, during the presales process, a vendor cannot give you examples of project plans and their implementation methodologies, then they should be suspect.

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Get “apples-to-apples” vendor proposals

Having co-chaired a national advisory committee for standardizing the structure of vendor software proposals, I can tell you that when evaluating different vendors and pricing proposals it is not always apples to apples. You don't want to get in a situation where you chose a dental software vendor, implement the system and then proceed to be nickel and dimed after the fact. Make sure that when you compare vendor proposals that there is consistency between cost items. I'm not talking about dollars themselves, which obviously are important when you're comparing costs, but making sure that different proposals are specifying similar products and services.

It is very important to determine what you need during the presales vendor evaluation process and convey this to the vendor so that their pricing proposal accurately reflects what items they are providing. I wish that all vendors used a standardized pricing template, but this is not the case, so the onus is on you to compare various proposals item by item.

Hopefully, some of the advice in this article will help reduce the stress which inevitably forms a cloud over a group that is in the process of evaluating and selecting an appropriate dental software system to move forward with. By using some of this information you can take charge and level the playing field when it comes to obtaining the best possible software for your group.