HOW TO PROFIT FROM...software: Point and click practice management!

Aug. 1, 2002
In your role as a consumer, you take advantage of service providers to help manage your life - you rely on your accountant to take care of your personal income taxes, your mechanic to fix your car, and even your paper boy to bring you the latest news.

Bernard B. Fink, DDS

In your role as a consumer, you take advantage of service providers to help manage your life - you rely on your accountant to take care of your personal income taxes, your mechanic to fix your car, and even your paper boy to bring you the latest news. So why not take full advantage of service providers to help manage your professional life? Especially when that provider - your computer - already works in your office. Sure, you probably already use it to check your email and track product orders, but with the recent advent of Application Service Providers (ASPs) in the dental industry, dentists now can utilize their existing PCs to manage their entire practice.

ASPs offer a new breed of services, utilizing the latest communication vehicle - the Internet - as their foundation. The benefits of an ASP are that it eliminates the process of backing up data and upgrading software, while increasing the efficiency of the practice. Generally speaking, an ASP hosts and manages software for small- to-medium-sized businesses, "renting" the software and managed-support services, rather than selling them outright. This eliminates the high upfront costs associated with traditional practice-management systems.

Typically, traditional desktop solutions for the dental industry can prove costly, data backup and storage can be a burden, and other technical administration can take dentists and their staff away from their main objective - caring for patients. A good ASP should have no upfront software costs and charge a low monthly fee. It should handle daily backups and ensure the security and integrity of a practice's data.

For the most part, ASP software solutions are built into a Web-programming language (html and others), enabling users to access the application using a Web browser from any computer with Internet connectivity (work, home, or even the beach). Traditional desktop systems are mainly stored and accessed strictly in the dental practice. A majority of ASPs are built on a platform that makes it easy to add functionality and provide upgrades. Traditional practice-management systems are difficult to change and enhance, because each new development requires that a whole new product be created. In addition, desktop systems require "bridges" to the Internet to utilize email and conduct electronic transactions and business services. However, access to an ASP easily integrates all functions of the dental practice. An ASP offers a convenient, cost-effective alternative to traditional practice-management software, while also serving as an important tool for doctor/patient communications.

Convenience

Backing up data and upgrading software can be a cumbersome and time-consuming task. Integrating an ASP into the dental practice can solve these problems by allowing clinicians to focus more on treating their patients, rather than "treating" their software. The convenience of a Web-based application is that users have access to their practice-management software at any time from anywhere through a simple Internet connection. An ASP is ideal for multi-site practices, because communication between each site is streamlined. Sharing information and communicating patient scheduling are effortless since each branch has access to the same version of the same data and has the same opportunity to update information. Additionally, if the computer in your office crashes, data can be accessed from anywhere else. The Appli cation Service Provider also can access it from its location and easily repair any data-integrity problems. Using a Web-based application also allows users the versatility to extend beyond the practice-management function into the realms of digital finance, accounting, insurance, purchasing, marketing, pharmacy, and human resource management. In other words, it serves as a unique one-stop shopping experience.

Cost-effective

Perhaps the biggest convenience of an ASP is the virtual elimination of the high upfront investment. The majority of ASPs are available for a low monthly rate, allowing the user to reduce the overhead and save on technological infrastructure costs such as hardware, integration, maintenance, and security. Some ASPs will help dentists save bottom-line dollars by providing discounted purchasing and leasing options through integrated business service partnerships. For example, one ASP offers preferred pricing programs on dental supplies, electronic claims, and marketing materials through its Web-based application.

Communication tool

The Internet is a powerful tool and, for the most part, your patient base is already well aware of the resources it offers. In fact, a number of patients today are locating their primary general practitioners via the Web. Integrating an Applica tion Service Provider allows your patients to be involved in the health-care process from their home computers, a means of communication they're already fluent in and comfortable with. By accessing an ASP, patients easily can facilitate appointment scheduling, bill payments, and inquiries. In addition, patients can save time through completion of online forms, as well as acquire further education on procedures.

For the most part, communicating via the Web always has been quick and easy. Integrating an ASP into your dental practice takes it one step further by essentially automating a majority of practice/ patient communications. While not detracting from the importance of one-on-one communication, an ASP works in conjunction with the dentist to further build the relationship with his or her patient base. Furthermore, maintaining consistent communication will add that personal touch that most patients are unfamiliar with in the healthcare field.

Marketing your practice electronically to potential patients also can be accomplished through the use of an ASP. As a value-added service, some ASPs afford dentists the opportunity to easily bolster the image of their practices by offering electronic-marketing materials, such as customized referral letters, recall cards, and newsletters quickly, easily, and efficiently.

Application Service Providers will continue to increase in use and evolve in tandem with the dental industry. The benefit of an ASP is that it was designed to readily adapt to change. By offering automatic software upgrades, an ASP will not require the dentist to run out and purchase an entirely new system. The early fears associated with Web-based, practice- management software concerned security, support, and privacy. However, Application Service Providers have taken decisive steps to allay those fears by offering secure, back-end administration networks; hardened router configurations; fully-switched networks; and comprehensive access policies. You will want to select a company that offers a fully staffed hosting and management-services team ... one that is constantly monitoring the network and applications for security breaches.

The future growth and development of ASPs will be extraordinary. The time, aggravation, and money saved by those dentists taking advantage of the technology will be astonishing! Look at it this way - if someone in your office isn't working up to his or her potential, you would probably do something about it, right? So then, why has your computer gotten away with being unproductive for so long?

Questions to ask a prospective ASP:

  • How do customers access the software?
  • How are customer service issues resolved?
  • How secure is the data?
  • How secure is the connection between the ASP and the user?
  • How is the application served?
  • How does the ASP handle redundancy?
  • How does the ASP handle hardware/software problems?
  • How does the ASP handle a disaster?
  • Who owns the data?
  • How can I move data between existing applications and the ASP?

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