Head in the Clouds

July 1, 2011
As anyone who follows technology trends is well aware, we are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in how we handle information.

Dr. Lorne Lavine

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: View from the Cloud, Dr. Lorne Lavine, cloud computing, Curve Hero.

As anyone who follows technology trends is well aware, we are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in how we handle information. While most of us still use traditional setups that include servers and local storage of information in the dental office, many other individuals and businesses have started to adopt technology systems that are based offsite.

These web-based applications, often referred to as “cloud” services, have taken off in industries such as medicine, but not as much in dentistry — yet. Why is this the case? Why have dentists, who are typically on the cutting edge (pun intended) of technology, not embraced a technology that other health care and non-health care fields have been embracing for years?

Cloud-based computing offers many advantages. It allows you to always run the latest and greatest version of your software since you don’t need to manually update the program yourself; the company does this on their servers. Since the data resides on other servers and not within your office, data backup is no longer necessary; you simply use a web browser to access your critical data.

Since you are just using a browser, it eliminates the need to install additional software. Unlike most dental software out there, cloud-based solutions are operating system-agnostic — in other words, you can run the programs on either a Mac or PC, the browser does not care. This also means that you will have fewer hardware needs, both from a cost standpoint and frequency of replacement.

Why hasn’t dentistry taken the next step?

So, it begs the question: if cloud computing makes so much sense, why hasn’t it taken off in dentistry? In my mind, it boils down to one word — imaging. In a nutshell, cloud-based dental programs do not offer real-time image management. In most cases, you would need to store the images locally, and then upload them nightly to the web. This means that you would still need a server, still need powerful hardware, and still need to do daily backups of your data. The advantages of a Web-based program would be offset by the need to handle your images locally.

Well, the good news is that this is about to change. Curve Hero, one of the best-known Web-based dental practice-management programs, recently announced that their imaging module is slated to be released in the fall. In my mind, this is a potential game-changer in the industry.

There are many advantages to having a Web-based image module. It can be truly plug-and-play (as opposed to the more typical plug-and-pray!) installation. Since it is part of the Curve software suite, there’s no complicated software to install.

One of the challenges for many practices is that images, unlike practice-management data, take up a huge amount of storage space. This would not be an issue if they were stored on the Web, as you would have endless storage of these images.

As with the practice-management data, you would have no backup worries. Finally, you have what many dentists have wanted — immediate and constant access to your images, along with all the benefits and convenience offered by Web applications.

Certainly, if you already have imaging software that you know and like, there’s no obligation to change. One of the benefits of Web-based software is that they usually can bridge easily to a long list of third-party software. However, you need to ask yourself if it makes sense to stick with this pattern, especially if you are due for hardware upgrades.

Many experts believe that as the Web becomes more popular, older technologies like client-server computing may become obsolete. You need to ask yourself if it makes sense to continue to sink thousands of dollars into technology that may be obsolete sooner than later.

If you want to future-proof yourself, have the latest and greatest when it comes to dental software, have excellent support, and pass many of the HIPAA and HITECH headaches on to someone else, then I would recommend that you look at Curve Hero.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be reached at [email protected], or by phone at (866) 204-2298. Visit his website at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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