Dr. Lorne Lavine
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As anyone who must use technology each day knows (this applies to everyone reading this article), technology is a quickly moving target. Technologies that seemed so fresh and new just a few short years ago now seem passé and outdated as newer technologies emerge. One technology that has emerged recently, and it is likely to be around for quite some time, is cloud computing.
What, exactly, is the cloud? The answer depends on whom you ask. In a recent survey conducted by Dental Economics®, doctors were asked, “What are the general benefits of using the cloud to manage your practice?”
Unfortunately, more than half the respondents said they do not know what the cloud is. Many people are not aware that they have probably already been using the cloud for years. We use the cloud every day when we access the Internet to shop online, bank online, buy a ticket to grandpa’s house, send mail using GMail, socialize on Facebook, etc.
In simple terms, the cloud means web-based applications. To expand on that, it means that the programs you would normally install and run on your computer are instead installed on high-end servers at another location. To access these programs, you simply need an interface to the data, and in almost all cases, this is a web-browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome. So, you are using the Internet to access the programs and files that you want to use.
Now that you know what the cloud is, what are the benefits of using the cloud? Here are just a few that most cloud users already know:
- You do not need to install any special software or download any programs. For example, you do not install Facebook, you just go to Facebook.com, sign in, and start using it.
- You never worry about backing up your data because the data resides on servers somewhere else. Typically, there are multiple copies of these servers all over the country and world, so the risk of losing your data is very small.
- Since the only thing you need to access the cloud is a web browser, you do not need expensive hardware to run it. In many cases, even five-year-old computers that would choke on modern software have no problem with cloud-based software.
- You have the convenience and flexibility to access your data any time of day or night. If you are shopping online, for example, you can do it when it’s convenient for you rather than when a typical store would be open.
- There are many cost savings with cloud-based software. Rather than a high initial cost to purchase a program, in most cases there are simply affordable monthly subscription costs.
- Another cost saving is a decreased need for IT support. You do not need someone to come in and install software and network the computers to a server because everything is handled through a web browser.
- Finally, you can be assured that since the software company handles the software upgrades, you will always have the latest and greatest version of that software.
So there are obvious benefits to using cloud applications in our nondental lives … but what about our dental practices? Does the cloud make sense for a dentist? In a word — yes! A well-designed dental cloud application can easily handle all the basic functions of a dental office, such as scheduling, billing, and charting.
One area where many dental cloud-based programs have fallen short is the ability to handle real-time management of images such as digital X-rays; however, this is changing. One company, Curve Hero, has announced the impending release of an image management module that will work with most sensors.
As I mentioned, cloud-based dental programs eliminate many of the hassles of running a modern dental practice, such as software installation, IT support, and handling data backup or remote access software.
I am often asked if cloud-based dental software is the future, and my answer is no. Why? Because the cloud is here now, and it has been here for quite some time. It’s not the future, it’s the present, and dental offices should seriously consider these types of programs if they want to future-proof themselves. Curve Dental is the market leader, but there are certainly others that you can evaluate.
Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (866) 204-2298. Visit his website at www.thedigitaldentist.com.