The Internets Impact on Dentistry

Nov. 1, 2000
Remember the last time you were at home wishing you had information on the "emergency" patient who just asked you for some really strong pain medication? Or how about the time you would have loved to see the next day`s schedule because you thought Mrs. Warbucks was coming in, and you weren`t sure if you had ordered the implant screws? Or if you wanted to see how the office numbers or schedule looked while you had some idle time over the weekend (I know, but this could happen if you enjoy the bus

Part XI:

ASPs - the future of dental management software

Bill Kimball, DDS

Remember the last time you were at home wishing you had information on the "emergency" patient who just asked you for some really strong pain medication? Or how about the time you would have loved to see the next day`s schedule because you thought Mrs. Warbucks was coming in, and you weren`t sure if you had ordered the implant screws? Or if you wanted to see how the office numbers or schedule looked while you had some idle time over the weekend (I know, but this could happen if you enjoy the business side of dentistry like I do.)?

How about an hourly automatic backup to five ultra-safe computers located in different areas of the country - all under tight security? Or working with your business consultants while they review (in real time) all of your practice trends any time of the day or night? What if your management consultant had access to your schedule every day and could keep an eye on every aspect of your management software? What if you could compare your fees to dozens of dentists in your area at any time?

Sound too good to be true? Read on!

The Internet has been hugely successful with two main components up to this point: e-mail and content (information). A third hugely successful component, already popular in other industries, is now poised to move strongly into the dental market. This new technology is changing the way businesses use computers. It`s a technology that will be the final nail in the coffin for the argument (yes, some still say) that computerization of the dental office is too expensive or not beneficial enough. This technology is big news (remember you heard it first here in Dental Economics).

So what is this new Internet technology? It`s the Application Service Provider (ASP). By the end of this article, you`ll have a glimpse of what this technology can mean to you and your dental business. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as AOL or MSN "provides service" to you by giving you access to the Internet. An ASP "provides service" to you by giving you access to software applications, such as Microsoft Word, Quicken, Dentrix, and PracticeWorks without having to "purchase" the software.

In a sense, you "rent" the software, and allow the ASP to do all of your upgrades, maintenance, technology fixes, backups, etc., on their computers using their technology experts on their time at a reduced (and potentially greatly lower) cost to you.

At $296 million in 1999, worldwide spending on ASP service was barely a blip on the radar. According to research by IDC (a world leader of technology intelligence and industry analysis), that`s all about to change. 2001 is predicted to be the first billion-dollar year for the ASP market, and IDC predicts spending on the ASP industry will be $7.8 billion by 2004!

I recently participated in a Web seminar, "ASPs: State of the Market," put on by Compaq, Digex, and Microsoft. (OK, I guess I`m a computer nerd.) This was a "Webcast" using the Internet for the visual and the telephone for the audio. Their projections and analysis were based on two recent surveys - one of more than 1,000 IT (information technology) managers, and the other of 400 CEOs, CIOs, and CFOs. Meredith Whalen of IDC presented findings from the survey along with the benefits of using ASP technology. The top reasons for going to ASP technology according to the 1,400 surveyed were:

- Provides affordable access to technology

- Avoids capital investment

- Simplifies budgeting

- Easier implementation

- Lower cost of entry for applications

Dentists will be attracted to the ASP technology for similar reasons:

- Lower up-front cost of implementing new dental software

- Immediate access to upgrades in applications and Internet-based services

- Elimination of in-office server maintenance and management

- Elimination of in-office data backups

- Web-based accessibility to your data from anywhere in the world, any time

- Patient access to their schedules

- Specialist access to images and text

- Unlimited ability to expand

- Reduced hardware and maintenance expenses

- Impressive data security

The following companies are now advertising an ASP dental practice management solution (many more will follow): PackOnline (dental.PackOnline.com) and vDentist (vDentist.com). InfoCure has announced that they will be bringing PracticeWorks to the ASP arena for testing before 2001. InfoCure`s VitalWorks will be focusing on the medical ASP model.

A common concern of dentists relates to security of their data files on the Internet. The good news is that security has become very reliable, if the proper technologies are used. If banks and large corporations can conduct business on the Internet, I say we can too!

According to PackOnline, "About 95 percent of secure Web sites worldwide use VeriSign (www.VeriSign.com) Secure Server IDs to authenticate themselves and to enable Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to protect sensitive online transaction and customer information such as dental, medical, legal, or insurance data. Your data travels through the Internet in encrypted format using the SSL protocol, which makes data violation virtually impossible. Your data is protected all the way from your browser to our secured servers. Privacy is guaranteed."

I often find that dental offices are not properly backing up their computer data. ASP technology is available to automatically backup data multiple times daily on multiple servers in multiple locations. The best multi-redundancy technology has reduced the risk of losing your data essentially to zero - and it can be done automatically.

Some final ideas on the future of ASPs:

- The value of combining software and technology to be delivered by the Internet is going to create a very big market for ASPs.

- We will see several more dental practice management software companies offer ASP by the end of 2001.

- We will see dentists use the ASP for a multitude of applications, not just practice management software, over the next three years.

- Pricing will vary widely for ASP software, as very few price point comparisons exist today. Many business ASPs are selling the reduced problems instead of reduced cost at this point. The dental market is wide open right now for wide variations in pricing.

- The ASPs that offer the best service, reliability, and security will rise to the top. In a brand new market, it behooves the buyer to study and research the options before selecting new software just because it is ASP.

I am excited about ASPs! The more I researched it, the more I found they could do. Application Service Providers are here to stay, at least until the next huge (and I mean huge) change occurs in technology. Fasten your seatbelts. The changes in technology over the next three years will be fast, fascinating, and, if you are prepared, a lot of fun!

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

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