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There are some common software questions asked by dentists when they are thinking about changing their practice management software. Am I running the best software for my practice? Is a lack of integrations holding us back? Why can’t we go fully paperless? We’re ready to move forward, but when is the right time? Do I have the right team around me?
There’s no short answer to any of these questions, but in the following Top 10 do’s and don’ts list, you’ll learn how to plan and avoid common pitfalls and hear from dentists and industry pros who made good choices, and some not so great ones, when they changed their software. To create this list I drew on my 10 years’ experience in dental IT (four as a technology systems installer for Benco Dental, and six as CEO of Darkhorse Tech) to help you answer some of these common software questions and transfer to a new system with ease.
Do: Know your endgame.
Have the end in mind. Know your endgame and backfill all the necessary and elective pieces in order of priority. Practice the four-quadrant method and rank each component by its level of importance and urgency. Evaluate current technology, both clinical and administrative, to assess how everything will work together. Think about imaging software changes, bridges, 3D CBCT impacts and other integrations. Performing a test conversion with the new software is a great way to see what the endgame looks like. Often, this is a free service and the new company will convert the data from your old software to the new one. You and the staff can play around in the software well ahead of time without risk, allowing you time to see exactly how tasks are performed similarly in the new system.
Don’t: Forget to involve your IT company.
Involving your IT company early and often is a key factor in the overall success of the transition. The company can also take a lot of work off the owner’s and office manager’s plates. Involve IT early and involve it with the new and old software companies to act as a bridge. Many software companies are competitors and don’t play nicely together. From the IT support standpoint, this will change how we support the office. The scope of work has just changed, and so will our systems on how to best support the office. It’s also important to consider where the software is backed up, which folders contain important data, which integrations are installed on the server and if your server has enough horsepower and space to install the new system.
Listen to Nick Aquadro, chief operating officer of Darkhorse Tech, who has more than five years in dental IT management experience: “Many people don’t fully realize how intertwined everything in their office is with IT. Although a conversion of practice management software seems rather straightforward, you want to be sure to discuss this in advance with your IT company. It’s always recommended to verify that all the third-party apps you are using, how you want to use them, and how you want to use your system in general, are all aligned. While this transition will certainly be beneficial in the long run, there are many factors that need to be considered before following through on the conversion.”
Don’t: Assume everything will transfer over cleanly.
We’ve all been there: The salesman will say just about anything to get the deal. Take what they say, then do your own homework. Ask for a software conversion checklist specific to your software. You may also consider asking the rep to speak with offices that have done your same conversion. Expectations and real experiences here are key.
Don’t: Let the fear of change
stop you from moving forward.
The reason a practice wants to make a change is because it feels something in its current setup is holding it back from running its best, most efficient business. It has taken a long time, but finally the dental industry is getting a much-needed injection of fresh technology and ideas. Don’t miss the train screaming down the track.
Do: Train and empower your team.
Some business owners jump right into the new software with little to no training and hope for the best. This is not an ideal situation and won’t result in an ideal outcome. There are two main phases of training that we will focus on, but learning should always be a never-ending process.
Pretraining: This can include YouTube videos, online forums (e.g., Dentaltown), Facebook groups and study groups. There are a host of resources available out there, most of them free of charge. YouTube videos will allow you and your staff to get a basic overview of how to navigate and perform basic functions in the software during downtime. Dentaltown and Facebook will allow you to connect with other practices that are either in the same boat or have been through a successful (or not-so-successful) conversion of their own. These resources can provide invaluable research and context.
Post-training (Go-live): Give your staff all the tools to succeed and you’ll look like rock stars in front of your patients. I always recommend an on-site trainer/coach, so the staff feels comfortable and has somebody to turn to. One day is great, two days are even better.
Heather Mallory from Sapphire Dental Solutions says it best: “Having a team trainer in the office on the first day after your software conversion is vital to starting out on the right foot. So much goes into the preparation of the conversion that usually doesn’t involve the whole team and they can feel overwhelmed. A trainer who knows the technical side of the software as well as dentistry can help put the team’s mind at ease and make them more receptive to learning. The dental team’s confidence is essential to a successful conversion.”
Don’t: Be the sole decision maker; involve your staff.
People are more willing to be team players if they’re involved in the process. Avoid creating the feeling that you’re making a change for change’s sake. For example, assign your office manager to be the liaison between the new software company and your IT support. You can also put your front desk in charge of primary and secondary insurance cleanup prior to conversion.
Do: Poll staff on what makes
their lives difficult.
Before your software conversion, ask your staff what about their current software is driving them nuts and make sure the new software is going to address that. A clear purpose of “why” will be critical to staff happiness and engagement in the process. After you collect this information, format it and present it at the next staff meeting or huddle to discuss as a group.
Don’t: Overload with change all at once.
In the same vein as involving your staff, make sure not to cram too much information down their throats. A software conversion can be a very disruptive process to your business, and adding new phone systems, imaging software and a reminder software at the same time will not help! The temptation will be there to add in all the new shiny products that promise to bring you new patients or a better patient experience. Practice discipline and the art of the agility method of project management. Agility teaches us to take one large project and break it down into digestible mini-projects.
Don’t: Expect everything to go perfectly.
It’s a new system; treat it like a new, first-generation car. There is a learning curve and during those painful moments you’re stumbling through the new system, remind yourself why you made the change. Empower staff to handle certain aspects of the project and give them the resources to be successful. Expect there to be bumps in the road for one to three months.
Some common-sense words from Dr. Kenneth L. Hale, who runs a 21-treatment room practice in Dansville, New York. A few years back he converted from a small, almost extinct dental software, to one of the big boys. When asked about the experience afterward, Hale said: “I’d say it was much more difficult and disruptive than we anticipated. We run a very large, efficient office with well-developed systems. All of a sudden, we didn’t know how to do anything; the staff was literally frustrated to the point of tears. The conversion was also much more expensive than we had expected. Billing was interrupted for months, the hygiene recare system was exploded, patients were lost, and patient accounting became confusing. It has been 19 months since we converted, and we still are not back to operating with our previous accuracy and efficiency. This was a serious financial blow to the practice.”
Do: Survey the landscape of third-party integrations.
Just because a certain feature was included in your old software, you shouldn’t expect that it will be in the new system. Additionally, consider third-party integrations that may have been unavailable because of compatibility issues that are now available to you. One such example is Flex Dental, an app designed specifically for Open Dental and can run on iPads and other tablets. It adds automated paperless solutions, treatment plan presentation, dynamically changing forms based on the patient’s answers, reminders and recall, instant patient photos, custom consent forms, two-way texting with patients, Google calendar integration and integrated discount plans. It is quite the powerful add-on if you are considering Open Dental.