Is it time for the cloud to come to your practice?

Dental technology continues to move forward. Slow speed belt driven handpieces have given way to precision electric handpieces.

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by Dr. Martin Jablow

Dental technology continues to move forward. Slow speed belt driven handpieces have given way to precision electric handpieces. Impressions can now be taken with a camera. We are replacing a scalpel with a laser. The time is here to considering moving from the traditional dental practice management client/server arrangement to using the cloud. In the early days of the Internet, a quote came from Sun Microsystems — “The network is the computer.” The line is blurring quite quickly when discussing traditional client/server software and cloud computing.

So what is cloud computing? The term “cloud” is a metaphor for the Internet, based on how the Internet is depicted in computer network diagrams and is an abstraction of the underlying infrastructure it conceals. Typical cloud computing providers deliver common business applications online which are accessed from a web browser, while the software and data are stored on remote servers. We shop, buy and sell securities, bank, pay bills and book travel. These items revolve around personal and financial information being transmitted over the Internet so all of these transactions take place in the cloud.

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So just think about all the IT hassles that a dental office has to overcome to have their current client/server practice management system run. Most offices hire an IT guy to keep their computers and network running. There are the constant need for upgrades of hardware and software. I dread the software updates and computer upgrades as it takes lots of time and there is always an “uh-oh” situation that may occur.

Dr. Lorne Lavine, president of Dental Technology Consultants, states, “With the myriad of systems that the modern dental practice must integrate, it’s my opinion that serious consideration needs to be given to cloud applications.” Cloud applications remove many hassles, such as hardware glitches, data backup, server issues, and the need for upgrades. Cloud-based computing is part of everyday life outside of dentistry, so we need to be part of that revolution.”

It is so much easier on an office if all you need is a simple computer and a web browser! So the biggest issue to overcome in dental cloud computing is fear! We do not stuff large amounts of money in a mattress. We entrust banks to handle our financial matters and protect our money. So why not trust your office data to the same cloud! Dentists want to control their data and not having it physically in the office generates an emotional response. After all this is my data for my business and no one can secure it like I do. The idea you can do it better then anyone else may not be true.

Dr. John Flucke says, “We’re all doing so much online that many of us are now taking cloud computing for granted. If you are doing online banking or travel, you are doing cloud computing. If you are using Gmail, Hotmail, or Google Calendar, you are doing cloud computing. “ So the reality is that we are using the cloud for many tasks.

So lets look at some cloud computing benefits and concerns. The first concern is security. How secure is the data in your office now? You must make sure that you continually back up your data and provides means to secure the data from the outside world. HIPAA comes into play and what happens if the there were to be a data breach. Do you even know what to do to secure and protect your data? When speaking to dentists across the country I am amazed that most dental office do not adequately safeguard their data. In all cases at least one data backup must reside off site at all times.

Rarely is the data ever restored to ensure the viability of the backup. I have personally heard of many cases where the supposed backup never was done properly and the office did not find this out until they needed to restore the backup. Thus there was no data to restore. My office is chartless using Dentrix G4 in a traditional client/server configuration. At the end of the day, I lock the doors when I leave and take an encrypted backup home. I also send my data to the cloud as an additional backup. So, I am already entrusting the cloud to safeguard my office data. In an emergency it may be possible to run my office from the cloud because that is where the data is residing.

When you use the cloud for your practice management there is continual backups up until the last data inputted. This is like an off site RAID (redundant array of independent disks) arrangement. The data is stored in a secure data centers in multiple geographic locations. Thus protecting your data at all times. Your office data is always available 24/7/365 as long as you have Internet access. You will no longer have to worry about backup strategies.

We have all read or heard about personal information being compromised. Some of us may have even had online identity theft issues. Unfortunately these things do occur but they do not stop us from still participating in Internet commerce. HIPAA issues are one of the biggest fears dental offices have with going chartless. There are HIPAA issues that need to be addressed by both hardware and software. Cloud computing addresses all of these HIPAA issues. Your practice has shifted many of the HIPAA responsibilities to a 3rd party. This is a HIPAA shield for your office.

Web based practice management software is the perfect solution to multi-location practices. No more trying to setup a single database along with the large expense or hassle. Your database is accessible from multiple locations at the same time.

So what happens if my office loses Internet access? Depending on the reason for your data outage it is usually a minor hiccup. I cannot remember any time that my office Internet connection has gone down except when we lost electricity.

So what happens if my Internet service (DSL, Cable or T1) line does go down for an extended period? You must have a redundant system in place. Internet access is available from your cellular service provider. It can be as simple as using a cellular telephone modem for your back up Internet connection. The cost is approximately $60 per month for the service.

The speed will not be as fast as your typical connection but should be able to keep you in business until your regular ISP comes back online. Data speeds on the cellular networks have been increasing and you may have heard the term 4G. This is a high-speed cellular data network that can allow you to continue to work if you are disconnected from your hard-wired Internet connection.

So where do I look for this type of Dental Cloud Computing? Online of course! The latest cloud based software is from Curve Dental (www.curvedental.com) and its called Hero. With Curve Hero you can do the things you would expect with your current software but without the IT hassles. Imaging software is built into the software. Most intra oral cameras and phosphor plate imaging systems should be able to integrate with Curve Hero.

Many of the popular imaging sensors can directly integrate with Curve’s software. Patient education (www.curveed.com) is also available free online to all dental offices from Curve. So why not try out cloud based patient education? Should you ever decide to change software, Curve Hero allows a simple download procedure allowing you to get your data in an unencrypted format to be imported into your new software.

The oldest web based dental software is Denticon from Planet DDS (www.planetdds.com). Denticon software as a service can manage your entire office. For those offices needing image management Planet DDS has software called Dentiray. There is limited support for sensors. For large group practices NextDDS software from QSI (www.qsii.com) has aligned with PlanetDDS to provide for the special needs of these practices.

So are you ready for Dental Cloud Computing? Dr. Flucke says, “The Cloud is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our lives. Cloud computing is no longer an experiment or something that will happen someday ... it’s here to stay.” Cloud computing is here and if you currently are looking for new software or to lower your IT costs and only use your current software to manage billing and appointments then the Web-based software is the answer.

Cloud computing for dentistry is in its infancy but the future is online. I expect that the feature set for cloud based dental practice management software will continue to grow rapidly. It is inevitable that we will all eventually move our office data to the cloud while making access to our data easier and eliminate our backup and hardware headaches.

Editor’s Note: A longer version of this article can be found at www.dentistryiq.com. Search for “Jablow.”

Martin Jablow, DMD, is a clinician, speaker, and author. He presents and publishes worldwide on many topics, including state-of-the-art dental technology and dental materials. Reach him by email at marty@dentaltechnologysolutions.com or by phone at (848) 207-4567. Dr. Jablow’s Web site address is www.dentaltechnologycoach.com.

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