Emerging trends in practice management software solutions for dental practices

January 21, 2015
Terri Lively
Issue 1

Dentists know any successful practice management solution is going to be a digital one.

Dentists know any successful practice management solution is going to be a digital one.

Software Advice, a dental software reviews and comparisons company, recently published its 2014 Dental Software Buyer's Report that revealed 93 percent of buyers want software solutions that do it all.

“The key takeaway,” explained Gaby Loria, market research associate with Software Advice, “is dentists want a ‘buy one and done’ solution. In other words, they are looking for software that encompasses various dental practice management application options. From charting to billing to scheduling, they want all the data fully integrated, so it’s not necessary to retype pertinent information once it’s in the system.

Related reading: 12 questions to ask before investing in new practice management software

Dr. John Flucke, DDS and chief dental editor for Dental Practice Management, agrees. “I used to call it a practice management system.  I now call it a practice operating system. ...The reasons for that are pretty clear. In the past, the software managed the practice doing mainly scheduling and accounting. Now the software operates the digital practice by doing everything clinical AND business related. A truly digital practice cannot function without a digital operating system.”

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What dentists want from their digital practice management systems

Loria, who focuses on dental, long-term care and home health research, went on to explain that many of the respondents for the report indicated a preference for intuitive user interfaces that featured straightforward features. Clinicians, particularly small-practice leaders, also expressed a desire for an easy-to-learn user experience. Furthermore, dentists want systems that have plenty of reliable customer support for training and troubleshooting.

“Dentists want to focus on patient care and retention. They see software as a means to achieve those things and tell us they don’t really care for ‘bells and whistles’ that might overcomplicate the practice management system,” she said.

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Flucke has a different take on this issue, arguing the bells and whistles are exactly what make a practice management system that can do it all. He explains, “While I agree that sometimes software creators can get caught up in delivering minutia, there is a big gap between wanting it all and not wanting it all.”

Software Advice provides software buyers' detailed reviews and research on various software applications to help match systems that meet their clients’ needs. For the 2014 Dental Software Buyer's View report, they analyzed 368 recent phone transactions to determine what trends are prevalent for digital practice management systems for the dental industry. More detailed demographic information is available at the end of the report. Some of their other key findings included:

  • 94 percent of respondents cited patient scheduling as the most necessary application

  • 89 percent of buyers wanted an electronic health record (EHR) application in their dental software

  • Imaging device and digital sensor integration were the top requested applications
     

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Analysts were surprised to discover 69 percent of dentists in the report expressed no preference regarding web-based versus onsite data management systems. The team had anticipated a stronger bias for either model. Loria concluded this fact reveals buyers are more open-minded to hearing the pros and cons of either deployment solution.  

Flucke disagrees. He said because the data was culled from incoming calls to Software Advice, it might explain the high percentage of non-preference. Also, without specific demographic information, there is no way to determine how much experience the callers might have had working in a practice environment.

“They could have been calling for any number of reasons, but the fact that they made the effort to call means they did so with a reason in mind,” he explained. “That reason alone skews the data.”

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What role will EHRs play for most practices?

EHRs continue to play a significant role in digital practice management solutions for most clinicians. EHRs were consistently mentioned as an important factor in the system chosen, although not weighted as importantly as imaging and digital sensor integration. More than half of the buyers analyzed were using manual records in some form in their practice, and there is still confusion about whether EHRs will be mandatory soon.

“This tells me there is room for more outreach and education to show buyers what value EHRs can bring to their practice,” Loria said.

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Flucke agrees that EHRs in digital form increase efficiency. However, “manual records in use” could use a better definition as there is much room for interpretation.

“That term might mean saving EOB’s in paper form and then shredding them when they were no longer needed. While you could definitely make them digital and increase efficiency, the term 'manual records in some form' paints the picture (at least for me) of an office using  a high amount of paper in their office,” he said.

Loria also explained the requirements needed to earn incentives offered to transition to EHRs by Medicaid/Medicare are such that most practices do not meet them. She believes this might be discouraging some dentists from investing in digital solutions.

Related reading: 10 reasons why your dental practice will soon be using electronic health records (EHRs)

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Common challenges for practices to move forward with a software solution

There are other common challenges that many clinicians share about adopting a software solution for practice management, including the following:

  • Cost

  • Time required to learn the system

  • Productivity lost in the training curve for employees

  • Concerns about ease-of-use

Loria thinks software solutions will continue to attract the interest of dentists in 2015 but that the adoption rate will continue to be slow and steady. She attributes this to time and training, in particular.

Video: This is the best-kept secret about your dental software

“As opposed to software buyers in other types of industries, it is not really common for dental practices to have dedicated IT personnel available to handle training and troubleshooting,” she explained. “One of the things we consistently heard from small practice leaders is the need for an intuitive interface and reliable customer support.”

Loria did say she sees the software purchase and adoption rate increasing significantly if there are more accessible monetary incentives offered for software implementation from federal sources.

Methodology

Software Advice regularly speaks with buyers who contact it seeking new dental software. To create this report, it selected 368 recent phone interactions to analyze. These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection and may not be indicative of the market as a whole.

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