Making software buying decisions

OK, here's the truth! I'm pretty sharp at management, but I am a distant second in management knowledge in my practice.

By Michael Gradeless

OK, here's the truth! I'm pretty sharp at management, but I am a distant second in management knowledge in my practice. My wife and office manager, Kathy, has an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country. Before we started working together, she spent 11 years selling main-frame computer systems for a major international corporation. She was extensively trained in the sales process, including how to demonstrate a computer system.

One of the first things she did in my practice was to evaluate dental software systems. The salespeople didn't know what hit them. She drove them hard, checked every option, and signed a deal that scared me with its cost ... but has repaid my practice many times over! From her inside knowledge of the sales process, we have assembled some tips for purchasing software.

First and most important — do not buy from a demo! Yes, you should see a demonstration of the software, but you will learn far more from a "user visit." Request a list of users from the area. Now we get to the hard part — you must phone some of them and go visit their practices to actually see the system in operation. User visits are vital because, to quote Kathy, "In a demo, I can make any system look good."

The system a salesperson brings in for demonstration purposes has only a few patient names entered, and the salesperson is intimately familiar with exactly what to show you. The real information about the utility of the system comes from asking the right questions of the users and observing how they use the system in their offices.

Approach this with an open mind. Do not go on a user visit looking to justify a decision that you have already made. Here are some questions to ask:

1. Can you show me how the scheduling system works? Scheduling is the first thing you ask about because it is the most powerful system in a dental practice. I have seen practices that actually keep dual books — that is, they schedule on both the computer and on paper. If you do this, you don't actually use computer scheduling! It is important to evaluate how easy it is to add a new patient to the system, to make an appointment, to look up the next appointment for a particular patient, and to check daily and monthly production.

2. How do you post payments? Can I see the "end of day" procedures? An extra 10 minutes at the end of the day may cost you an incredible amount of money over the life of the system.

3. How are software updates handled and are you using the most current version? You really don't want to know how many practices are not on the current version of the vendor's software.

4. Can updates be installed over a lunch hour or will I have to use up most of a Saturday to stay current?

5. When there are problems, how good is the software developer's help line? Some problems can be solved in moments; others take days. Ask enough people this question so that you may be able to spot a trend.

6. If you were making your software purchase decision today, would you choose the same system? Why or why not?

These questions of users of the software you are considering will help you make the best decision for your practice.

There is one other piece of advice we have for you on this subject. We strongly recommend that you purchase hardware and software from the same vendor. Hardware can be purchased at a discount online or from volume retailers. You will save more if there is only one person responsible for the installation. This does not mean you have to buy your computer system from your local dental supply house. The correct software for you is more important than which intraoral camera or digital radiography system you choose. The software you utilize in your practice will be integral to your long-term success.

Do not make your decision from simply watching a salesperson's demonstration. Take some time to see how the system performs in actual practice by making a user visit.

You'll be glad you did!


Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He is also the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or email: drmike44@aol.com.

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