Are dental schools providing adequate software preparedness?

Dental software is quickly becoming the lifeblood of any practice or group. All aspects of clinical, administrative and financial operations are becoming more dependent on software technology.

Next generation, state-of-the-art practice management and claims processing systems, sophisticated clinical software including electronic health records, electronic referral management, integrated imaging, demand for patient web access, governmental mandates for interoperability of patient records, and increased HIPAA reporting and liability are just a few of the dental software driven changes facing today’s dental practices.

However, the fact remains that many dental schools do a poor job of preparing students to deal with the increasingly complex world of dental software that a graduating dentist will have to deal with for years to come.

I have seen numerous instances where a new graduate joins an existing dental group and is expected to select new software technology. Some groups assume that the recent graduate, being brought up in a tech-literate world, has the skills needed to lead evaluation and selection of new software.

And when it comes to dental software for a graduate acquiring an existing “old-school” practice or building a new practice, the skills needed to be successful become much more daunting. Not only do they need to have the skills to evaluate and select the right software, but they now need to deal with the details of purchase, acquisition and implementation

Each year I’m invited by a top dental school to give seminars to their graduating dental students on “next-generation” dental software technology. I was recently approached by an attendee after delivering one of my dental software workshops:

“I went to school for years to learn how to provide quality clinical patient care,” he said. “No one prepared me for having to deal with software vendors and technology companies.”

Some graduates won’t think about preparing to select, purchase and implement dental software until it’s too late. Whether you plan on starting your own practice, or joining an existing practice, dental software vendors will try to earn your business. And if you’re not prepared to make this decision, the vendors will have the upper hand.

So, what should dental schools be teaching students to prepare them for this journey, and what’s the recipe for dental software success? In many years of helping practices and groups with their software acquisition and purchase, I’ve found that it boils down to three main things:

1. Choosing the right software and vendor that meets practice management and clinical needs and is able to grow as your practice grows

2. Negotiating the best price possible, along with an iron-clad contract that gives you as much protection as possible

3. Making sure you have a solid implementation plan, managing this plan and holding your vendor accountable along the way

A well-structured vendor demonstration is key

A good start for a dental school would be to think about incorporating education on conducting organized vendor demonstrations into their curriculum. This is very low-hanging fruit. The biggest mistakes in software evaluation and selection are often made with these vendor demonstrations. Instead of the practice or group exercising control over the demonstration, the vendors are left to run the show, spending more time than necessary showing features that might not be your priority, and not showing features that are critical to your practice. The cliché, “the inmates are running the asylum” comes to mind here.

This scenario can be prevented by going into a vendor demo with clear objectives, a set time frame, a list of the clinical encounter and practice management scenarios that you typically see, and precise knowledge of what’s important to you and what you want to see demonstrated.

In addition to addressing your issues and concerns, vendors should also exhibit certain “soft skills,” such as the ability to understand practice or group needs and demonstrate these in the software, a desire to engage attendees by asking questions, and a willingness to think outside the box and deviate from their prepared scripts.

Conversely, a group or practice should be wary of those vendors who exhibit “red flag” behaviors, such as one sided conversations, or discussion of solutions before they understand actual needs and requirements. You’ll know this is happening if you feel that the vendor is exclusively in “sell mode.” The liberal use of technical jargon to impress or confuse is a red flag. Also, watch out for vendors who make promises about future features, as these might not materialize (The reason such features are known as vaporware). If the vendor exhibits these behaviors, politely excuse yourself.

Will dental schools get there?

I am encouraged with the growing number of students that contact me regarding learning about the ins-and-outs of dental software as well as dental schools recognizing that the “nuts-and-bolts” of dental software and IT education are important in dental education. After all, we are becoming a more technical world, and understanding how to evaluate, select and purchase the best software possible is a growing necessity in providing the best patient care and efficient operations.

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