Why all dental software is not created equal

Aug. 25, 2016
Software permeates everything we do, so it's no wonder that practice management software is at the heart of every practice.

Joshua Austin, DDS, FAGD

Software permeates everything we do, so it's no wonder that practice management software is at the heart of every practice. We depend upon dental software for almost everything we do for our patients, and patients rely upon us to use software that protects their identities and health information.

It's no simple task to develop software to perform wide-ranging business and clinical tasks-while at the same time meeting government and industry requirements. In addition, simplicity must be at the heart of all user interfaces. We'll get into why this matters below.

Patrick Clyne, president of MacPractice, has been developing dental software for three decades. In the 1980s he led the development of DentalMac, the first dental software with a graphical user interface, and the very first integrated charting and digital imaging. Beginning in 2004, Patrick, together with Mark Hollis, CEO, developed MacPractice DDS, the first dental software developed for Mac OS X. MacPractice has also had many firsts. Recently, on a visit to the Lincoln, Nebraska, headquarters, I got to taste the "secret sauce" that makes MacPractice, the software I chose for my practice, unique.

Let's face it. Running a dental practice can be Rube Goldbergesque, especially if you accept insurance, bill for both medical and dental procedures, pay associates based upon collections, etc. Yet you want your software to be simple and easy to learn and use.

The key: consistency. No matter how many different tasks your software must do, if your user interface (UI) is consistent in appearance, operation, and principle as you move from one area to another, it looks and feels familiar and is intuitive. While MacPractice does not have the luxury of designing a one-trick-pony like iTunes, Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, they do follow the evolving Apple master guidelines, making MacPractice familiar to Mac, iPhone, and iPad users-that's most of us. Most importantly, this makes it easy for someone who knows MacPractice basics to quickly pick up new features like digital radiography, charting, and secure messaging.

MacPractice's owners and designers have listened and responded to thousands of requests from their users. The trick is to respond to requests and government and industry requirements and yet avoid feature bloat and unnecessary complication.

Users can communicate suggestions, which MacPractice records and tracks, from anywhere from within MacPractice DDS without interrupting workflow. MacPractice also involves an advisory committee that includes corporate trainers and MacPractice practice consultants who have provided onsite training and service for more than 25 years to hundreds of clients. The advisory committee relays valuable, timely input from the users they work with onsite daily. This way, thousands of dentists are directly and indirectly involved in establishing and verifying requirements, in reviewing proposed designs, in providing further input, and in anticipating and addressing unintended consequences.

The development team is broken into squads, each tasked with a specific functionality. "Product owners" who lead the squads meet with Patrick, Mark, a project manager, the director of development, and a documentation specialist at least once a week to coordinate. Additionally, the open floor plan at MacPractice lends itself to frequent and ongoing collaboration.

MacPractice believes that built-in capabilities produce a superior user experience. For example, while the software integrates with all major digital imaging solutions, most MacPractice users actually work with radiographs and photos inside MacPractice. MacPractice decided in 2011 to build AES encryption into its products. Because of this principle, I can incorporate accounting, word processing, charting, imaging, fax, secure messaging, and all the other ePHI I collect and manage inside MacPractice. That, along with the fact that I have a unique encrypted password, qualifies me for HIPAA's Safe Harbor in the event I were to have a breach.

MacPractice developers incorporate every Apple technology as it is introduced, and the team updates their intercommunicating native apps for iPad and iPhone to work with new versions of MacPractice for El Capitan, for example.

MacPractice has also taken a novel approach to those online services that are offered in bundles by so many competing vendors. They have built-in interfaces for reputation marketing, online registration for discrete data entry by patients, and online scheduling. Appointment reminders are, of course, tightly integrated. Tight integration makes for more effective, efficient, lower-cost services that do not require the purchase of a bundle, and also makes for a better user experience.

MacPractice is a tight-knit, family-like group dedicated to making the best and simplest dental software. From personal experience, I can tell you that it helps me run my practice efficiently every single day.

Joshua Austin, DDS, FAGD, is an editorial director for Pearls for Your Practice: The Product Navigator, an e-newsletter from DentistryIQ and Dental Economics. He also writes the "Pearls for Your Practice" column in Dental Economics. He graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental School and runs a solo general practice in a suburban area of San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Austin is involved in all levels of organized dentistry and can be reached at [email protected].

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