Up In The Clouds

One of the biggest new buzzwords out there is “cloud computing.” Some dentists are already familiar with this term. In fact, many dentists are already using websites like Facebook and Flickr that employ the cloud. Some dental practice management software (PMS) manufacturers are just beginning to utilize cloud-based software as an alternative to traditional client-based dental PMS software like Eaglesoft, Softdent or Dentrix. Before going further, it is time to clear out the clouds and figure out exactly what cloud computing means.

Cloud-based software is also referred to as “SaaS” (software as a service), web-based software, or ASP (application service provider). Cloud computing is essentially computing delivered as a service rather than a product. It’s where shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices (tablets, mobile phones, etc.) over a network. Users can access this network from all over the world granted they have a compatible device and internet service.

Proponents of the cloud-based system say it offers several advantages over a localized client-based computing system.

1) Data storage and backup – since the data is stored via the internet on large servers located off-site, you have much larger and more reliable storage capabilities. Also, there’s less need to backup your data locally (via CD, DVD, hardisk or remote/offsite companies) since it’s consistently and reliably backed up on the servers maintained by the company supplying the software.

2) Cost – there’s no need to purchase expensive data-storing servers, minimal upfront costs for software with no cost for upgrades and lower fees for IT support. Furthermore, service provider costs can often be spread along the users making it cheaper for access and software updates.

3) Access and security – users have the ability to access their data or software from anywhere (office, home and remotely) with a PC, tablet or their mobile device. Rather than individually having to locally set up firewalls and antivirus programs, the security is provided by the software and exists within the network. Cloud-based software companies claim they offer security levels that are HIPPA compliant and just as secure as most bank websites.

Several concerns have arisen since cloud-based dental practice management software first hit the market.

1) Difficulties in transitioning from an existing client-based system (Dentrix, EagleSoft, etc.). The practice is disrupted and the verification process to ensure accurate data transfer can be time consuming.

2) Trouble with digital imaging capabilities. This issue has been the biggest hurdle for cloud-based software companies.

3) An ongoing monthly fee. Using cloud-based software is like leasing a car. You never own the software free and clear but always pay to use it.

4) The need for high-speed internet access. There are some areas of the country that do not have internet access fast enough to make cloud-based

dental software a viable option.

5) Dental offices still need to back up any internal documents that they store on their local hard drives.

One of the up-and-comers for cloud-based dental software is Curve Dental and their Hero web-based PMS. They currently offer one of the more comprehensive cloud-based dental software packages. Other cloud-based dental software options are Denticon (planetdds.com) and MediaDent (gazellecloud.net). These companies provide all the features that Dentrix or EagleSoft has (charting, patient education, billing, training for staff) but also data backup and imaging.

The biggest challenge that faces the cloud-based dental software companies is integration of radiology using digital sensors. Each software company is addressing this problem in their own way. Denticon has their own web based imaging software called Dentiray that integrates with their Denticon software. Their website states that the Dentiray software will work with a “sensor system that uses standard TWAIN driver” and they state they are “currently involved in adding compatibility for other sensor systems.” Curve currently works with Schick, Gendex and Suni sensors with Kodak coming soon. Dexis sensors will not work with Curve at this time.

A local Colorado dentist recently set up his practice using Curve and ran into a few problem areas. He stated that the digital radiographs were problematic for a while and the software is not set up to submit UCR fees to insurance while simultaneously creating a real time estimate of a patient’s copay. His front office has to manually calculate most treatment plans resulting in frustrating human errors. He stated that if Curve can fix the current issues he would choose them again, but he currently feels that Curve is charging a premium fee without providing premium service. He enjoys the ease of access and the ability to have all patient information at his fingertips no matter where he is. He also stated the software is very esthetically pleasing.

We will likely see most client-based softwares offering a cloud-based system in the future. The companies offering software like Curve and Denticon have a head start so it may prove to be a challenge for traditional client based dental software companies to catch up.

It’s no mystery that the computing world is moving towards a cloud-based environment. Yet, with all of the major advantages it offers (cost, storage and access) as with most software revolutions there will be hiccups and headaches along the way. Client-based software will continue to be the overwhelming majority but at some point, dentists will likely ask themselves, “Do I want to work in the clouds?”