Choosing Computer Hardware and Software
Buying computer hardware for a dental clinic is just like buying it for any other type of business, right? That is the natural assumption, but the truth is that the programs you are going to run have specific requirements that may differ from those required for other business software. You need to consider 3 things first and foremost when buying your computer hardware: the processor, the RAM memory, and the hard drive. You also need to ensure that the operating system will work well with the software you plan to use. For this reason, it is a good idea to look at the software you need to run your dental office first so you can make sure to purchase computer hardware that will support it.
Software Designed Especially for Dentists
Two kinds of computer software are designed especially for dentists and their dental clinics. First, you can get software to manage the business side of the practice. Second, some of your equipment, such as dental imaging equipment, might require its own software. You have a lot to consider when choosing dental software. Since all software company representatives tend to believe their software is the best, you need to know what to look for before you speak to them. Evaluate each software solution based on the following criteria.
Are the Financials User-Friendly?
The best dental clinic software has easy-to-understand and easy-to-work-with financial features. The software you choose should have a system of checks and balances so each transaction is compared against the end-of-day totals. You should be able to run reports to keep track of productivity, manage referrals, track overdue accounts, insurance claims that need to be filed and treatments that need to be scheduled.
Is the Appointment Calendar Easy to Use?
The appointment calendar is your bread and butter. Without the ability to schedule appointments, you lose patients to dentists who can. In addition to having all the information you need (such as patient name, phone number and abbreviation of treatment), the software needs to have a function that allows you to set aside blocks of time for new patients or other times when you focus on doing one specific kind of treatment.
How Will the Software Improve Workflow in Your Office?
Have you ever been in a doctor’s or dentist’s office and had to wait for what seemed like an eternity for the receptionist to make your appointment. What often happens is the software they are using is slow to load, either due to software or hardware issues. You need software that moves easily and quickly from screen to screen, not only for appointment-setting, but also for other clerical tasks.
Is the Software Likely to Meet Future Needs?
As you start your dentistry business, you have many basic needs that software can meet. However, chances are that eventually you will need more features to accommodate your growing practice. As you evaluate software to use in your dental clinic, consider both the features you need now and what you will need in the next 5 years.
What Training Is Available for the Software?
No matter how simple the software appears to you, your staff will need to be trained to use it to its maximum efficiency. Consider what will be the best way for your staff to learn. Most software companies provide at least one of the following types of training:
- Manual (always needed)
- Video tutorials
- Interactive training CD’s or DVD’s
- Live Internet training
- In-person classes or seminars
How Does It Work When You Try It?
Download a trial version of the software you are considering and take plenty of time trying it out. Try to do a variety of tasks you and your staff will do on any given workday. Enter financial information and run reports. Make and change an appointment. Give the software a good test-drive to see how it works for you.
Does the Software Company Provide Good Technical Support?
What kind of technical support is available to you and your team once you start using the software? Once you have downloaded the demonstration version, contact the technical support team and ask all the questions you have about how to work with the software. Now is not the time to figure it out on your own, because you need to know how much help you can get when you do not have time to make mistakes.
What Kinds of Experiences Have Other Dentists Had with It?
Talk to other dentists you know about what kind of dental clinic software they use. You can also check dentists’ forums for information and opinions on different kinds of software. Finally, read reviews of the software online. Pay less attention to the tone of the review and more attention to the objective data that seems to be presented there.. After all, not everyone is as calm and level-headed as you are, but it is often easy to spot factual statements.
Consider Using a Lesser-Known Brand
Three software companies provide most of the dental clinic software available. They offer a feature-rich product that is well-tested and popular among dentists. However, they also have the most marketing costs and overhead. If their prices seem out of reach, consider using a local or lesser-known company’s software. If you do, follow all the recommendations in this section for evaluating the software.
Cheaper Is Not Always Better
You do not necessarily have to get the most expensive dental clinic software for your office to run smoothly. On the other hand, choosing software based solely on its low cost is also a mistake. If the software does not do what you need it to do, invest in software that is more complete, easier to use or has more features.
Consider Both Software Costs and Subscription Fees
Any software sales representative will tell you the base cost of the software you are considering. You also need to find out if there is a subscription fee you need to pay yearly. Cloud-based solutions are generally charged by yearly subscription fees. However, just because you have the physical software at your office for non-cloud-based software, it does not mean you will never have to pay a subscription fee. Be sure you know the entire cost of running the software for a year before you make a financial commitment.
What Hardware Do You Need?
Once you have investigated the software you need for running your dental office, turn your attention to the hardware. Make notes of all the hardware requirements listed for the software you have chosen. You need to go beyond minimum requirements and get hardware that meets and if possible exceeds those requirements.
The processor needs to be fast enough to handle the load you place on it and get you to the screens you need quickly. You do not need a large amount of RAM memory, but you do need enough to be able to open several applications at once, especially for the dentist’s computer. Finally, you need a hard drive that not only has enough storage space, but that is also fast enough to be able to access information quickly. Too much hard drive space can slow you down, and it is really unnecessary since you can store patient charts and radiological images on the server.
As for operating systems, it is important to not get carried away with the latest one. Much of the dental software you might want to run will not work with more advanced versions of Windows. Currently, Windows 7 Pro is as advanced as you would want to go but advanced enough to support changes in the near future.