Checklists are an essential tool to assist in the successful selection, contracts review, and implementation of dental software. We have developed these checklists over a 15 year period of successfully assisting practices in these areas.
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To evaluate and select the most suitable software, a team of users must reflect all the types of users who will be involved with the system. The team should reflect administrative and clinical users, who are experts in the types of tasks and interfaces necessary for the software to provide functionality in a specific environment. The team will be part of every step of software selection and should be empowered to share their perspectives.
Recommendation: All types of users should be on the selection team.
Treat evaluation and selection as a project, and manage it as such. Set aside time to make sure it actually happens. A key aspect of that process is to set a schedule, including regular meetings and milestones. The selection team should have set aside time to do the tasks required to evaluate and select software, and the dental office’s schedule should include selection meetings, demos, conversations with vendors and other key information. Setting aside time for the project will help in getting it done efficiently.
Recommendation: Schedule for selection and evaluation, rather than trying to fit it in around the edges of other work.
Analyze current and desired workflow. Consider what features are must-haves and what are nice-to-have, and categorize features into those two lists.
The must-have features will be your deal-breakers. If software cannot meet your must-have list, it should be considered less desirable.
Recommendation: Define what features are necessary both day-to-day and annually, and what would be helpful but not required.
Don’t approach every vendor. Start with a manageable subset that you can actually review in a timely manner. Five to seven is a good starting point to aim for.
Examine the current market and make a list of relevant software products. Talk to other dentists through professional organizations or local events to find out their experience with different vendors. Using available online and in-person information, narrow the list of potential vendors to a manageable list of products.
Recommendation: Keep the initial list of candidates to a manageable number
A Request for Proposals allows for an apples to apples comparison of important selection criteria across products. The RFP includes not only requests for information about features, but also allows the client to solicit information like the vendor size, vendor support mechanisms and the vendor’s typical users. This information will allow the selection committee to continue to filter the relevant products.
Responses from vendors are legally binding if used as an exhibit in a contract, so in addition to being a comparison tool it can hold the vendor to their representations and commitments.
Recommendation: Use an RFP to compare vendors on the same playing field. Remember to ask for, in addition to clinical and administrative features, such items as vendor profiles, support and implementation processes, and technical considerations
Usually, the RFP asks for a response within a particular timeframe; the selection team schedule (above) should reflect that timeframe, and potential customers should be able to evaluate RFPs in a timely fashion. Three weeks is a good maximum deadline.
Recommendation: Write an RFP that reflects your needs, disseminate it to multiple vendors, and give them reasonable amount of time to respond.
A well-written RFP solicits the information necessary to filter vendors and products down to a manageable list for closer comparison. Responses to RFPs should allow the practice to narrow their focus to only a few products. Compare the responses to the practice’s list of features, assessing potential fit. If they cannot meet the must-have features list, set the product aside and focus on the products that can meet the practice’s needs. Also keep an eye out for have features that are new to the practice, or that simplify existing tasks in innovative ways.
Once elimination of vendors that cannot meet the must-have features has taken place, use a tool to weight and evaluate the remaining products and vendors. An evaluative tool is common practice in software selection and allows for comparison and weighting. Four to five is a good number of products to consider for the next steps.
Recommendation: Eliminate vendors that cannot meet must-have feature needs, and use an evaluative tool to narrow remaining choices to the top options.
To evaluate dental software for an organization, consider the clinical situations in which it will most often be used. Identify the current process steps for collecting, entering and accessing clinical information during encounters, and construct a few (approximately three) clinical scenarios.
These use cases allow the practice to direct the demonstrations with vendors, and provides clear guidance to the selection committee about daily usage needs for the software. To save time, practices need to be prepared to take charge of communication with vendors and get the information necessary to make an informed decision.
Recommendation: Construct true-to-life use case scenarios that will be ongoing, daily needs for your practice.
Approach vendors and set up times for demonstrations, virtually or in person. Give them the clinical scenarios and specify the need to see the scenarios in person. Focus the demo on your practice’s selection needs and criteria using those clinical scenarios.
When scheduling demonstrations, be sure to schedule all of the vendors as close together as your schedules allow. This might mean early morning or evening demos to accommodate the practice’s patient schedule. The selection team’s time is valuable, and to move the process ahead effectively, demos need to be close enough together in time to mentally compare and contrast not only the measurable, rubric-based features, but the look-and-feel and usability too. In addition, ensure that the selection team can all be present for the demonstrations. All types of users should see the software.
Recommendation: Schedule a series of demos within a short timeframe and ask the vendor to cover your clinical scenarios.
Demos are a chance to begin to build a relationship with your vendor. During the demo, pay attention to whether or not the vendor representative responds to your questions and includes your scenarios. Ask questions throughout the demo—do not allow a canned presentation to waste your time. Control information dissemination by asking questions and using the time with the vendor effectively. Get the information you need and make sure to see the clinical scenarios enacted.
If vendors are not responsive, that is valuable information to record as well.
Recommendation: Demand interaction and responsiveness in the demo, as this is the first step in your potential relationship with the vendor. Don’t let the vendor control the demo.
After the demos are complete, the selection team needs to meet to review their evaluation, and to exchange impressions and thoughts. Features should be re-evaluated in the context of how they are presented in the demos. This can be an interesting time as the demos can be subjective in nature and each member of the team can have their own opinions regarding what screens, design, navigation, etc., works better for them.
The tool used in evaluating the RFPs will be used here as well, but more extensively. A smaller number of products will be more closely evaluated during this stage, and comparing features, reporting and ease of use across products is key to appropriate selection. Provide enough free time for the selection committee to debate and come to resolution.
Recommendation: Select software as a team, comparing thoughts and pricing. Use a tool to evaluate products and provide time for discussion.
Once a final product has been selected, review of the proposal is essential. The RFP should provide vendor proposals with capital and operational expenses. Review the proposal and note any areas where potential extra costs could be incurred in the future, such as the additions of interfaces and patient web portals. Try to avoid nickel and diming by approaching the vendor with a list of these possible additions. In particular, identify the practice’s short and near term needs and work to get those met with proposed pricing, up front, rather than with increasing fees over time.
Recommendation: Review the selected vendor’s proposal closely, looking for areas that could potentially mean additional fees and costs.
Once prepared with knowledge from the vendor proposal enter into final price negotiations with the chosen vendor. You have the right to negotiate on price, particularly for add-on or service items. Understand the market and what’s reasonable and fair so you can negotiate the best price for your situation.
Recommendation: Before committing to a vendor, make sure that you have the best pricing possible from that vendor. Don’t be shy about negotiating.