The benefits and pitfalls of Web-based software programs

Jan. 1, 2011
A few years ago, my hard drive on my computer crashed. My photos, music, word processing documents, and some financial documents were lost and my backup failed.

Adrian Huang, DMD

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: cloud computing, data, practice-management software, security, Dr. Adrian Huang.

A few years ago, my hard drive on my computer crashed. My photos, music, word processing documents, and some financial documents were lost and my backup failed. Experiences like that may be a thing of the past due to an increasing shift toward "cloud" computing, or Web-based alternatives. Now we are able to store our data on a group of redundant and protected servers accessed through the Internet. This data can be modified and used by Web-based programs that offer a level of convenience and flexibility not attainable with a server stashed in a closet.

Increasingly, we are familiar with using the Internet to share pictures, shop, bank, socialize, create document, spreadsheets, presentations, and even edit photographs. Likewise there are now Web-based alternatives to dental software where we can access our dental clinical and management data from any computer in the world, just as if we were sitting at the computer in the dental office. With these new cloud-based dental software programs, there are wonderful benefits and some potential pitfalls.

What are some of the advantages of moving dental office management and data into the cloud?

  • One advantage is potentially lower computer costs. You can use any brand of computer – Mac or PC – and you won’t need as much processing power. Your computer can be less expensive, have less memory, and a more economical and efficient processor.
  • There are instant software updates. You never install software. Every time you access the system you’re using the latest version. You won’t experience downtime due to hardware and servers that must be shut down to install an update.
  • There is unlimited storage capacity. No matter how big your practice grows, you will not need to buy more memory in the form of hard drives and disks to accommodate the expanding patient base.
  • Universal access to your patient database. Have you ever been away from the office and wondered about your schedule or forgot to enter an important note for a patient? That is not a problem with cloud computing, since you can log on from any computer and update your notes or schedule wherever you are. Your documents and applications are the same no matter what computer or device you are using.
  • There is increased reliability on the data with cloud computing. If your practice burns to the ground or your computers are stolen, your practice data is unaffected. It is stored in the cloud and you will not experience any down time trying to retrieve your patient and practice-management data.
  • There are some potential disadvantages to moving all of your dental practice information into the cloud as well.
  • The number one concern is security. There is a fear that once your practice information is moved to the cloud that you lose control of security, however, dental software companies who host Web-based software probably have better security measures than what a dentist can achieve internally. Regardless, they must incorporate the latest security measures on a continual basis to keep your data safe.
  • Using Web-based dental software requires a constant data connection. In some areas of the country, good Internet connections are still difficult to find, but that’s changing.
  • Web-based dental software will work with low-speed connections, just not as well. It may be a deal breaker if you have less than a broadband connection.
  • Some features might be limited. This is changing on a daily basis as constant improvements in Web-based software are made. Right now, the basics are similar, but some advanced features may not be present yet. But with constant updates, new features are being added almost every other week.

What kind of dental practice would benefit from cloud computing? That is ultimately up to the dentist and practice office manager to decide. Web-based dental software and cloud computing is here to stay and will continue to evolve quickly. Right now, Web-based dental software may be a good fit for one practice but not for another. The best thing to do is look at the facts, see a demonstration, and then decide.

Dr. Adrian Huang is a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in Lexington. He currently operates a paperless private practice in Provo, Utah, that emphasizes restorative dentistry. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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