Growth factors – the changing face of dental software

shutterstock_189550079Brian Weatherly, president of International Practice Solutions, explains where dental software could be leading in the future.

In the late 1980s, when Software of Excellence was founded, we wanted to create a new style of management system that would empower dentists to run more efficient practices and allow them to focus on delivering better clinical care. Originally, we were concerned with workflow systems, appointment books, clinical charts and debtor accounting, but by 2003 we had progressed to a full suite of practice management components that included charting, treatment planning and analysis of appointment blend and chairtime utilisation.

Practice management solutions are now a combination of software, automation, services and monitoring so practices are effectively being delivered outcomes, as opposed to the simple functional products that epitomised the previous decade.

It is my view that the future of dental software is inextricably linked to the future of fast moving dental and technology markets, and to understand how software will change in the next decade we need to consider four key questions.

1. What is happening to technology in general?

The last decade is one that has seen a staggering amount of change in technology and society. People’s use of technology to communicate has changed beyond all recognition; enhancing and re-defining our communities via social media platforms and messaging, with the growth in IT supporting a culture of instant gratification and endless choice.

2. What is happening in dentistry?

The dental market is in the middle of a process of consolidation and there are a number of contributory factors.

The recessionary impact of limited government funding for the public sector, the rise of corporates, direct access for therapists and hygienists, and patients willing to make hard choices regarding their discretionary spend have all conspired to ‘commoditise’ dentistry. This environment has created greater opportunities for those dentists willing to adapt their practice and embrace IT and online solutions.

3. What is happening specifically within practice management systems?

Software companies are now providing dentists with technological solutions that have coincided with more sophisticated patients willing and able to accept a different approach from their dental practice. The best practice management systems are now complete business solutions, using a mix of products, automation and services to give better business outcomes.

Understanding the importance of e-communication and leveraging modern tools to facilitate this process, particularly automation and patient self-service, is enabling practices to offer a consistent service, through facilities such as online booking, offering patients a level of flexibility that was hitherto unavailable.

4. What is happening in regard to public attitude?

Changes to public attitude in the last decade have been marked. No longer a deferential ill-informed, passive bystander to treatment, patients are now a well educated, mobile, demanding public, unwilling to tolerate poor service or treatment, who have been empowered by their access to information and their ability to choose. Dentists must acknowledge that people are eager to believe the reviews and ‘star ratings’ of unseen faces on a Google search and develop and embrace appropriate strategies in order to meet the changing attitudes of this digital era.

Practice management solutions have never had such a rich palate of possibilities to impact the lives and livelihoods of dentists. I believe that the next opportunity for our software will come in terms of accommodating the wants and desires of patients in the form of data analysis and tailoring campaigns and messages to exactly meet the needs of patients.

The future of dental IT and practice management is no longer just about product functionality, it is now about harnessing sophisticated online tools by which dentists can understand the return they are gaining by providing a specific service. Our aim is to help dentists use their data more intelligently, enabling them to improve the health of their businesses through which they can deliver better healthcare to patients.

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