The economics of client-based systems vs. cloud-based systems

Every equipment or software purchase made by the dental office raises the question, “What is the return on investment for this product?”

Adrian Huang, DMD

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Every equipment or software purchase made by the dental office raises the question, “What is the return on investment for this product?” The dentist always wants to know how it will affect the bottom line.

There are many brands of dental software. It is difficult to compare each particular feature of each brand of dental software, but it can be done. However, in this article we will limit the comparison to client-based software vs. cloud-based software, and how each of their contrasting properties affect the practice’s bottom line.

Newer cloud computing relies on offsite servers that are accessed through the Internet, while client-based systems use local servers in the office to store data. Since the cloud model does not require a local server, is it more cost-efficient?

Here are some areas where cloud-based dental software could provide savings and cost advantages:

• Initial purchase price for the software can be low or nonexistent. Cloud-based software is not usually purchased, since it is accessed through your Web browser. It is instead paid for via a monthly subscription.

• Low cost for backing up your system. Data is stored on offsite servers and you do not need to buy backup hard drives or make an extra payment for remote offsite backup fees.

• New server hardware. No dedicated server is needed and any computer that has Internet access will run the software. Adding a new computer to your office is as easy as buying one and logging into your wireless network. You and your computer specialist do not need any new networking to a server.

• Lower IT and networking costs. You could potentially escape the need for an office networked to a server, and the installation and maintenance expenses associated with them.

• No lost productivity because the server is down. If your server goes down or there are network problems, you will not have to close the office to work on the system.

• Allows remote access to dental software. You can work from home on notes and treatment plans, and the answering service can schedule after-hours appointments and check schedules and prescriptions. You can have your phone answered 24 hours a day without paying an employee to sit in an empty office just to answer phones.

• No down time while updates are made. Updates can happen remotely at any time, and there is no need to wait for annual improvements in software when daily or weekly fixes can be made. Software is constantly up to date.

• Potentially less powerful and expensive computers are needed. Web-based computing requires less computing power and common types of computers can be used, including PC and Mac computers.

These are just some of the ways that dental cloud computing software can affect the bottom line. There may be more ways, and creative thinking and dental software engineers are exploring those in both cloud- and client-based systems.

Also, some types of dental practices may feel greater benefits than others. This depends on how the practices are run, what stage of development they are in, and what volume and types of patients are seen.

There are some circumstances where cloud-based may not save much money and client server-based software may be the best choice, or at least equal in cost to cloud-based software:

• No Internet access in the practice. If you have no connectivity or it would be prohibitively expensive to get online access, Web-based software makes no sense.

• You may still need a server in your office. With digital radiographs and photos, there are no cloud-based alternatives yet. This is in development and when it is possible, servers will no longer be needed. Sometimes offices have server-based educational software, but that is less necessary as online options for these are not available.

• You may like the cheapest software available and may not worry about updates. This is a personal choice, but with most inexpensive software you get what you pay for. Generally, if you pay less, you get less. You may only need a few modules the software offers, but once all the bells and whistles are added it can cost more than you thought. Value should have a premium over cost.

Cloud computing is still evolving and some of the economic benefits of this model have yet to be explored. Areas that are currently under development may be Web-based imaging and radiographs, patient reminder systems, more robust billing and payment systems, as well as paperless data entry and health history collection via tablet computers.

Dr. Adrian Huang is a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in Lexington. He operates a paperless private practice in Provo, Utah, that emphasizes restorative dentistry. Reach him by e-mail at

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