Dentists today are faced with a more competitive market and an increased patient demand for connectivity making disruptions to office operation more costly. In this article we describe how selecting a practice management software that fits your individual office needs can minimize those disruptions and maximize office productivity.
According to the Canadian Dental Association’s website the population to dentist ratio has been steadily decreasing since 1997 (1). This decrease is translating into a more competitive market for dentists as they are challenged to provide premium patient care while simultaneously staying profitable and efficient. Add to that the change in patient habits and expectations. While patients in the past were satisfied with simple reminder calls and printed information sheets, younger patients today expect more electronic communication through email and text-message reminders, emailed newsletters, and up-to-date websites (2).
Such challenges increase the need for office efficiency, productivity, and connectivity and make disruptions to office operations more costly. Non-patient related tasks such as data backups and downtime to deal with software or hardware issues cut into the office’s bottom line and distract the staff away from the patient.
In working with dental offices we have seen firsthand how these issues can seriously affect staff productivity and office operations: from office managers having to spend their summers generating year-end reports, to IT consultants needing to take down office computers for a significant part of the day to perform a software or hardware upgrade, to dentists being cut off from their patient and schedule information at one office location when they are at another location.
Many of these issues can be mitigated with the right type of practice management software. Which software is best for your practice depends on your needs. A careful consideration and evaluation of those needs prior to selecting your software will go a long way towards maximizing productivity while minimizing the disruption to your daily office operations and reducing your overhead costs.
One of the most important features in a good software is its user friendliness. Many of the current software offerings aim to pack an enormous number of features at the expense of ease of use. For the average office, many of these features never get used. We have seen that over and over again when talking to front desk administrators. The functionality of buttons that are very visible on the main screen is often a mystery to the staff because they never need it. This also comes at the expense of potentially useful elements. One front desk administrator created a complicated route to achieve a certain functionality in her software not being aware that a single button on the main screen could have served that same function. New staff also struggle with learning such complex software. In such cases more senior staff have to spend time teaching them about the software or the office has to pay outside trainers. So when comparing different software offerings think about the functions you need accomplished by the software. Too many features is not necessarily an advantage.
Another issue to consider is the ability to access your practice schedule and patient information remotely. Most current desktop-based practice management software does not have a built in ability for remote access but provide an add-on module for a limited version of the remote access functionality. Many of those rely on your computer systems in the office being on all the time. One receptionist from a multi-practice dental office needed to make appointment reminder calls to patients on a weekend. She had made sure the office computer was on before she left the office. However, by the time she tried to access the office computer from home, the connection was rejected. As it turned out, the janitor had mistakenly turned off the computer while cleaning the office. The receptionist had to drive back to the office, turn on the computer, and make her calls. This scenario can be easily avoided with more modern web-based practice management software systems that rely on central servers managed and secured by software professionals. So when you are considering a specific software make sure you understand the details of such functionality and the expectations it entails from you and your staff.
Consider also the devices you would like to use to access your practice management software. There is a strong skew towards PC-based practice management software. Some of those also allow access through certain mobile devices. So consider how you envision your office: will you be providing a mix of desktop units and tablets to your staff, or will it be purely desktops? What types of desktops do you plan to get? While desktop-based practice management software is always strictly designed for PC’s only or MAC computers only, web-based software is more versatile and allows accessibility to most devices that support the use of a browser.
Then there is the business side of your practice. You will undoubtedly need to keep track of your finances, costs, patient turn around, provider productivity, and many other metrics that reflect the profitability of your office. Traditional software accomplishes this with pre-canned reports that may be sufficient for a small practice. However, as the practice grows, and the number of practice locations increase, such reports become time consuming and may hide potential areas of growth. A more recent option is the use of a business dashboard. Dashboards identify key performance indicators and present those in real time allowing you and your staff to make better business decisions and keep track of your business performance. Your dashboard should be able to provide a comprehensive view of your business with the ability to retrieve increasingly finer details and to view the combined performance of multiple locations. They allow dentists to easily find out information about their appointments such as the average wait time at their office and patient cancellation rates, as well as information about payments and write-offs. The value of dashboards is especially significant for new offices looking to maximize their productivity, larger offices and multi-office owners.
Another criteria to consider is your own future plans. If you plan to start multiple practice locations any time in the future then your software should be able to support your business growth in that direction. When considering a specific software, make sure you understand the requirements for using that software in a new location: will you have to install the software again on the new computers? Will you have easy access to patient information from multiple offices? Will you have to pay more setup fees? Ideally, the software should allow you to add as many new locations as your business demands with minimal requirement for installation and setup fees, with all offices sharing the same patient data and being managed under one account. This allows you to view and manage your businesses comprehensively. It also gives you the ability to provide your patients with the same level of care while giving them flexibility in choosing treatment locations.
Your office productivity and efficiency can be enhanced greatly with the right piece of software. So when considering your options make sure to understand your needs first and select the software that best fits those needs.
About the Authors
Reem K. Al-Halimi is the CTO and co-founder of iKlyk Inc, a Canadian software company dedicated to revolutionizing the way dentists run their business. Prior to establishing iKlyk in 2014, Dr. Al-Halimi was involved in academic research on machine learning and information retrieval. Dr. Al-Halimi also taught multiple computer science courses at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Dr. Al-Halimi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Population to Dentist Ratios Canadian Provinces 1997-2013 Trend. Canadian Dental Association. [Online] https://www.cda-adc.ca/en/services/fact_sheets/dentist_pop_ratios.asp.
- Ontario Patients: Information Wanted and Contact Preferences. Abate, Rose. 9, November 2015, Ontario Dentist, Vol. 92, pp. 14-15.