Looking ahead at the trends that will define this year.
Spending many hours each week working with dental practices, multi-location groups, DSOs and software vendors has given me some insight into the priorities of these folks and where the dental software industry might be going over the months to come.
Over the next year, we will see much-needed innovation becoming mainstream and state-of-the-art features and functionality being incorporated into your software experience.
It’s about time. While some dental software vendors have stayed relatively run-of-the-mill and have not yet “come to the party” in terms of changing, others have pushed the limits of innovation. But a changing healthcare system and increased competition for your dollar is providing incentive for all vendors to stay ahead of the game, and 2018 could be a breakout year for a number of vendors.
To this end, although there are a myriad of new features and functionalities to discuss and learn about, let’s just start with three major trends: The rapidly expanding growth of cloud-based models; DSO and multi-location group support; and clinical software, including electronic health records.
As vendors more frequently introduce cloud-based dental software, I get many questions each week about this growing trend in technology. These questions address a variety of topics such as the benefits of cloud-based software, costs compared to client servers, and whether cloud-based technology is a fad or not. I’ve either written or spoken about these questions and others for quite a while. But to truly see where the dental software industry is on this, from their perspective, you only have to look at the investment and resources that more and more vendors are putting into their cloud models.
Popular vendors Curve Dental, Planet DDS, Henry Schein and others continue to innovate in the cloud space. Patterson is getting set to launch its new cloud-based product as we speak. And finally, other vendors who have not as yet converted their systems to true cloud-based models (as it can take some time to do this properly) are at least moving their software to be run at outside data centers, which again shows the growing popularity of software operation and IT moving outside the walls of groups and practices.
Lessons learned: The medical software industry has evolved toward cloud-based computing over the past decade and the dental industry is finally following in its footsteps.
DSO and multi-location group support
The train has truly left the station when it comes to the growth of DSOs and multi-location groups, and forward-thinking dental software vendors are scrambling to hop on board. In talking to vendors, I definitely see substantial investments being made in developing features and functionality to support this industry trend. Let’s face it: A lot of the existing solo and small practice market has already been tapped by software vendors, and owners have been hesitant to switch. But vendors see a rapidly-expanding market over the next few years of DSOs and multi-location groups.
With this growth comes opportunity for organizations to look at purchasing new software - kind of a mini gold rush when it comes to sales opportunities. Putting on my software-consultant hat, I frequently talk to DSOs and groups that find their present software cannot support the growing needs of a multi-location organization and are looking for assistance in evaluating their practice management and clinical software options. True DSO and group software technology should include support of centralized databases, reporting rollups, standardized clinical templates, robust analytics and operational task management, among other features, which were not previously needed with solo practice. To tie in the concept of cloud-based software, many of these features are more easily supported in a cloud model.
In the past, not all vendors were willing to make this substantial investment in dollars, time and resources. But now that it’s become a question of competitiveness and survival in a changing dental industry, more vendors recognized the need to jump into the DSO and group market. Case in point: When assisting DSO and group clients in evaluating software in the past, some of the vendors I talked to did not have full support for these organizations. However, these days I have more vendors to choose from when assisting these clients.
Lessons learned: The medical software industry has evolved toward supporting group practice over the past decade and the dental industry is finally following in its footsteps.
Clinical software and electronic health records
If you followed my articles, podcasts and blogs over the past few years, you are aware of my strong support of the development of innovative clinical software and electronic health records (EHRs). Some call it the “final frontier,” as we have been waiting for innovations in patient-care-centric clinical software for quite a while and it’s finally happening.
So, why do I think this type of software will be a trend in 2018 and years to come? From a pragmatic, business perspective, as a software vendor, how do you differentiate your product when it comes to scheduling, billing, front-office and back-office functions?
That’s very difficult these days as many practice management systems appear to be similar in their functionality, at least from a dental practice or group’s perspective. Where a vendor can separate their software tremendously from their competitors is to develop sophisticated, innovative patient care functionality represented by “next generation” clinical software and EHRs. When I consult with practices, DSOs and groups in evaluating new software, what a vendor has developed in this area is a great differentiator.
Lessons learned: The medical software industry has evolved toward “next-generation” clinical software and EHRs over the past decade and the dental industry is finally following in its footsteps.