Dental office management software is a class of software solutions that help dentists and dental office managers handle many of the business functions of operating a practice. These business functions can include day-to-day tasks like appointment setting, charting, billing, customer communications, purchasing, and social media. This kind of software has become more and more popular as offices strive to become paperless, with many practices opting for cloud software solutions.
The idea behind dental office management software is, of course, to make dental office management easier. As we define it here at Heartland Dental, dental office management is “a set of practices, procedures, and skills that go beyond clinical care, and that is needed to turn an education in dentistry into an actual viable practice.”
The specific practices and skills needed to run a practice change over time, however. That’s why good software will keep up with best practices for office management. For example, office management software from 15 years ago would not have included social media components, or mobile dashboards, or the ability to send text reminders for appointments. Today, these things are almost a necessity.
That said, it is unlikely that any piece of software performs all of the functions an office might need. Some software is designed to be a specialty tool for just one function; some are more comprehensive suites but might leave out a desired feature or two. This means that most dental offices will use multiple pieces of software to get all of the functionality they require.
What to Look for in Dental Office Management Software
So what should one look for when looking to get dental office management software? As mentioned above, no one piece of software can do absolutely everything, so this should not be a consideration when looking to make a purchase. There are, however, plenty of factors to consider that will have a direct effect on the way in which your practice is run:
- HIPAA privacy and security. How is patient information kept secure? Is the software explicitly HIPAA compliant? Does it have safeguards for protecting patient data at every step?
- Easy for office staff to use. Can your staff get up to speed on the software quickly? And can they do common office tasks quickly and easily? If your dental office management software requires extensive training for your staff (and they still get stumped, even with training), that’s a big consideration.
- Helpful dashboards. In this day and age, there’s no reason why you can’t access the records you need, when you need them, not to mention collect key data in real time and have it presented in a way that is easy to understand. A good dashboard should do all of this.
- Data analytics. Speaking of data, what data can help you make better decisions when it comes to managing a practice? Many practices will track things like the number of new patients per month, case acceptance rate, patient retention, billing and collections, and so on. Analyzing this data and looking for trends can help keep a practice healthy and growing.
- Automation. All software has a degree of automation. The trick is to automate mundane, repetitive tasks so you and your staff can focus on more important things. For example, good office management software can send out appointment reminders, accept payments, flag payments that are due, access and present patient data, and record insurance transactions.
- Integration. If you have existing software systems that you plan on using, you should ensure that your new dental office management software can integrate with these in a seamless way. Data should flow easily from system to system without having to manually re-input data.
- A fee structure that makes sense. Is the software a one-time purchase, or do you pay a monthly subscription? What features come with the subscription? How many users can it accommodate? Most importantly, can you understand exactly what you will be paying for and why? Having a simple fee structure can be a benefit, because it makes planning and budgeting easier.
- Features that create “a positive patient experience.” This one is a little harder to detect, but there are certainly differences among software solutions. Is it easy, for example, for patients to change their booked appointments? Is there an easy-to-use self-serve feature? Do patients get appointment reminders the way they want to receive them (text, email, etc.)? Are payments easy to process, or do they take time? All of these things can make for a better customer experience, if done right.
Before You Buy…
One caveat before you settle on a particular piece of software (or, for that matter, on the decision to affiliate with a DSO and use its software).
Many dentists feel that they need office management software because their practice has grown and it has become obvious that they cannot manage their practice the way they always have. The dentist (and maybe even office staff) might have to work late and on weekends, or just generally feels the stress of running a growing practice.
The natural reaction is to say “If I just had a better system, all of this would be easier….”
That is right only to an extent. While good dental office management software can automate many things and make some processes simpler, it is not the same as having good practices in place. For example, if your billing is confused and disorderly, billing software will only make this happen faster. If your efforts are failing to reach new patients in a way that is relevant to them and their lives, new communications tools are not the answer. Spending more money to broadcast messages that don't speak to your audience will only make you feel more ignored when they take their business elsewhere.
In short, do yourself (and your bank account) a favor, and examine your practice and define your goals before buying any form of software. Too often, software is purchased as a quick fix to a problem that requires a more purposeful, customized solution. Your first step, then, might be to contact a dental consultant or mentor to ensure you are doing everything right.
And of course, if you’d like the help of a partner to support your office and take some of these decisions off your hands, Heartland Dental is happy to help! Just reach out.