Built for success: The digital backbone of the dental practice

Taking a structured approach to building your digital dental practice can produce the highest satisfaction.

Taking a structured approach to building your digital dental practice can produce the highest satisfaction.

When you launch your career, selecting a software provider is like building the backbone of your practice. Dental software is the main framework that provides structure and support for your day-to-day activities, as well as helps provide protection and security to ensure a continuously smooth operation. The basic “spinal structure” of software integrates every aspect of your practice including the front desk, wireless networking, digital radiography, hardware, patient education, and more.

The responsibility for establishing and maintaining the strength of your practice’s backbone falls squarely on your shoulders and, since your software will ultimately direct the well-being of your practice, the decision to go digital is obviously a huge jump. Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to be a leap of faith. By simply asking a few questions, you can take a structured approach to selecting the right dental software to upgrade your practice and ensure a successful future.

A smart call

After practicing as an associate and then sharing space for a number of years, I decided to relocate and make the transition to private practice. Although none of the offices where I worked relied much on technology except for a computer at the front desk and some very old software, I had worked briefly with a mobile dental office that used digital technology. Based on that experience, I knew I wanted to equip my practice with the very best technology available. So, with the support of my talented staff and a vision of what I wanted to accomplish, I picked up the telephone.

My approach was to simply open the phone book and begin calling dental offices in my area. I spoke with front desk staff and office managers and asked them a series of questions. I asked them which software they used, if they were happy with it, if it was easy to learn, if the technical support was good, etc. Their answers surprised me. Many offices said their tech support was poor, their system crashed a lot, their provider didn’t offer clinical and business portions of their software, or a combination of these issues. As I made call after call, however, one software provider stood apart from the rest. Its users did not experience any crashes, they reported that all software updates went smoothly and, most impressively, they described outstanding support. They said that any waiting, if at all, was less than five minutes and then the problems were fixed promptly. They described an ideal relationship with their software provider - just like I was looking for. I decided to build my paperless practice with that company, Patterson Dental.

Building from the software up

When you know you have selected a strong software as the backbone of your practice and have the right team behind you, it is easy to put your faith in their work. With the right team, the transition to a paperless practice can be taken in strides. Partnering with a software provider made our digital transition faster and easier than I had ever imagined.

Soon after making my decision, I met George, my equipment specialist. He had a great reputation in my area and was extremely knowledgeable in guiding me through the entire process. Working with him and his team on everything - from the planning stages to choosing equipment, office design, and construction - has been fantastic.

During the planning stages, our first step was to locate a building. We found an older structure located on Bridge Street in the lovely community of Saranac, Mich., which, unfortunately, could not be renovated. We decided to tear it down and create a whole new establishment from the ground up. We modeled our new office after an old English cottage and used Feng Shui to create a welcoming atmosphere - which is especially important in a practice that primarily treats children. The design incorporates everything from the furniture to paint, with a focus on textures and earth tones, and an emphasis on stainless steel and wood materials. The framework for the practice is solid, like the physical construction of our building.

The beauty of implementing great software as the digital backbone of your practice is that it is designed to streamline daily activity and create maximum efficiency from the time patients walk in the door to the time they walk out. It allows for significant flexibility and range of movement that can be customized to meet the specific needs of the practice - in one seamless operation.

The technology we selected helps create a positive experience for the kids we see by guiding them through the process of visiting the dentist. Our practice-management software, clinical software, and digital X-rays not only help children understand their procedures, but they also make the procedures much faster and easier. Combined with the software provider’s hardware, we have built a fully integrated, paperless practice - from the front desk to the operatories - that has resulted in a beautiful, dynamic environment.

Utilize your resources

My advice to anyone starting out is to aim high, take an informed approach, have knowledgeable people behind you - including a software provider and a reputable builder - and go for it! Utilize the familiarity and recommendations of your peers to select software as the backbone of your practice, and then leverage the knowledge and experience of your team to construct an engineering masterpiece.

A special thanks to the design/installation team from Patterson who made this project such a positive experience, including George Smith (equipment specialist), Kim Bradburn (technology representative), Diane Walsh (equipment coordinator), Dean Drake (office design), and Cathy Oglesbee (account specialist); and our building company, DeJager Construction, led by project manager Scott Centille. I also would like to thank McKenzie Management for its practice-management guidance.

Dr. Kathleen Ellsworth is a 1993 graduate of the University of Detroit, Mercy. She is in general private practice in Saranac, Mich., where she primarily treats children. She has served on the Michigan Dental Association’s Committee for The New Dentist, and is a member of the ADA, the Michigan Dental Society, and the West Michigan District Dental Society. Reach her at (616) 642-3500, or e-mail dr.feelgood@starband.net.

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