Dental Software Development: Tips to Help You Communicate Better with Your Vendor

When you start up your dental practice management system at the beginning of the day, do you ever wonder how what you see on the screen ended up getting there? In short, what you are viewing is the collaborative effort of multiple team members and departments of your dental software vendor.

First there are individuals who conduct market needs analysis, gather industry intelligence, and analyze customer needs/feedback. Next, company management prioritizes the identified software requirements that will direct the software development team that produces the finished product for distribution.

This blog concentrates on the software development team and the process they follow to ensure the software they develop meets the needs of dental practices. What you learn will give you useful insight whether you are evaluating new dental software or already have a software solution.

Having a better understanding of the software development process can help you to articulate feature requests, questions and concerns more effectively. You will also gain a better understanding of where your ongoing investment in dental software goes!

The Dental Software Development Process

Have you ever requested a new feature or improvement to an existing feature and wondered why you can’t always get a definitive answer about if and when it can be completed? This is because there are normally a number of changes and new features already planned for the next software update as well as a series of steps that must take place when adding any new feature.

Here are the “best practices” that dental software developers typically follow to ensure delivery of a quality software solution:

1. Requirement gathering and analysis: Dental practice feature requirements are gathered in this phase based on vendor prior experience, market research, competitive analysis and most importantly, customer feedback. The objective of each feature under consideration must be clearly defined as well as the required data inputs and outputs. Assuming a feature request is deemed beneficial to a critical mass of customers, a Requirement Specification document is created which serves as a guideline for the next development phase.

2. System Design: In this phase, the feature’s functional design is prepared from the Requirement Specification document. System Design helps break down the specific requirements and identify how they fit into the overall system architecture. In this phase, the Testers define a test strategy that specifies what to test in the system design and how.

3. CodingUpon completion of the system design documents, the work is divided into logical modules and actual program coding is started. This may involve more than one Programmer and is typically the longest phase of the software development life cycle.

4. Testing: After the code is developed it is tested against the requirements to make sure that the product is meeting the needs that were defined during the requirements phase.

5. Deployment: Following successful internal testing, an “alpha” version incorporating the new feature/s is deployed to a select group of customers who have agreed, with the understanding that issues may arise, to report their experience. Further changes to the update may be required to address the reported issues. A “controlled release” (beta version) of the update is then provided to a wider customer group. Once the version is deemed stable, it is ready for full customer deployment.

6. Software Maintenance/Updates: The best software is continually evolving and improving – never static. Consequently, software vendors periodically deliver new, improved versions of their software to provide their customers with up-to-date features and integrations. This process is known as “software maintenance” and is offered under different costing models. Software support is often bundled with software maintenance plans to offer a complete service package.

Software Updates, Upgrades & Customization

There is often confusion as to what constitutes a software update, a system upgrade or a customized feature. Service updates are the first form of software updates and consist of “fixes” and/or minor enhancements to existing features as requested by customers or by Software Support team members based on their experience working with customers. 

Software Updates

Small improvements and features provided to the current version of the program are referred to as minor updates (for example version 8.4 to version 8.5). When more significant changes and new features are added to the software, it is termed a major update and correspondingly named as a new version (for example version 8.5 to version 9.0).

Software Upgrades

While an update modifies the current software product, an upgrade totally replaces it with a newer and often more superior version. Upgrades are necessary when new functional demands and requirements cannot be met by simple updates and as a result, typically involve migration to a new operating system, database management system or application platform (such as cloud based).  

Customized Features

A new feature that is provided to a specific customer (usually for a fee) is known as a customization as it is not part of a general software release. An example may be an integration with a third-party software for the purposes of providing workflow synergies between the two applications. Care must be taken to ensure that any customization continues to function when new versions of the dental software are released.   

Conclusion

The challenge for dental practice management software vendors has always been to take a complex product and make is as intuitive and easy to use as possible – without compromising functionality. Similarly, developing new features is not a one-time task but a continuous process software developers must follow.

New dental practice needs and technologies require dental software vendors to be nimble and have proactive systems in place to respond to change and keep their customers satisfied. By having a better understanding of the software development process, dental practices are in a better position to communicate requests to their vendor and ultimately receive the features they need on a regular basis.

Service and Support: The Key to Dental Software Satisfaction

Recently I wrote a blog about four main factors to consider when evaluating and purchasing dental software. One of the factors cited was the importance of a vendor’s quality and level of service and support. While writing, this had me thinking back to a time when we were doing a lot of conversions from other vendor’s systems – the primary reason not being lack of functionality as one might think, but rather in many cases, the lack of sufficient customer support at critical times.

With the increased complexity and functionality of dental software today, the importance of service and support is even more critical, yet often remains a neglected factor when evaluating which practice management system to implement. Let’s look at the components of a comprehensive support plan that help ensure your practice runs smoothly with minimal interruption.

Solution Implementation

The first indication of the level of support you will receive from a vendor usually comes during the sales process – but at this stage you are dealing with promises. It’s during the software implementation phase where you will receive tangible evidence of a vendor’s commitment to support.

Whether you choose a local server or a cloud-based solution, it needs to be configured to the workflow requirements of your practice and that requires assistance from the software vendor. In many cases, you will need to contract third party hardware/IT vendors that will also rely on your dental software vendor for support. Many installations also involve conversion of practice data from a previous system – another indicator of service level based on the quality and delivery time of the data converted.

Training

The amount and level of training you will receive is another indicator of the vendor’s dedication to high service levels and is a huge determinant of how your dental team will perceive the functionality and quality of the software.

Look for a vendor that has the resources to offer a variety of training methods including onsite, classroom and web-based, and ask about the software’s built in help system and whether they have other training collateral available such as tutorials and videos. The number and experience level of trainers on staff is also a good indication of the quality of training you will receive.

There is a temptation to skimp on this area in an effort to save money but the irony is that quality, comprehensive training allows for the greatest return on investment. However, if you have a person on staff that is skilled enough to train the rest of your team, this can be a viable option to optimize your investment and help ensure that all team members follow the same procedures when using the software.

Software Support

As mentioned, a common reason practices switch to new dental software is poor customer support from their vendor – specifically, slow response times and insufficient problem resolution.

  • Request performance statistics, such as the average on-hold time and average length of call. This information will provide you with an objective metric when comparing service levels between vendors.
  • Ask how many software support analysts they have on staff to respond to technical questions and/or issues.
  • Check out the type of support plans offered and the scope of service hours to see if they match your requirements and budget. Ideally, the vendor should provide 24/7/365 support.
  • Find out from your colleagues whether their vendor’s technical support staff often go beyond simple problem resolution by providing helpful tips based on their experience working with dental practices.
  • Review the vendor’s customer newsletters, blogs, ebooks, training materials, etc. to gauge how helpful they will be and the degree to which they will keep you informed.
  • Look for vendors that provide a customer portal for convenient access to value added resources.

Software Updates

As the dental industry and practice management best practices continue to evolve, so will your dental software need to progress. Software updates you receive from your vendor should consist of improvements to existing features as well as new functionality rather than simply “bug” fixes. Downloading updates should be seamless and require minimal setup to limit practice downtime. Small incremental updates are preferred so that learning curves to implement new features are short and reliance on support services is minimized.   

Third-Party Integrations

No matter how comprehensive the dental software package you choose is, there may be third party applications you want to add that can benefit from an integration. The integration will typically involve sharing of information between the new application and the dental practice management software to provide administrative/clinical synergies and reduce data entry. Third-party applications that can benefit from integration include imaging software, payment card processing, reputation management, and automated patient communication. The number of integration partnerships a vendor provides is an indication of how dedicated they are to delivering leading-edge solutions to their customers.

Conclusion 

Like all companies that use software to help manage their business, dental practices rely on service and support to maintain productivity and minimize downtime. Unfortunately, many dental practices underestimate the importance of quality support before purchasing dental practice management software only to realize its impact after it is too late to change course easily. There is also a temptation to cut support costs since it is an ongoing expense – however, this service has the potential to provide a large return on investment if used effectively.

It can be difficult to determine which vendor is positioned to provide the best levels of service and support. It is wise to start by evaluating the vendor’s overall track record in the industry – a good indicator of the quality of support they will provide after you purchase their software.

Discover Your Hidden Profit: Uncover Unscheduled Treatment

In working with hundreds of dental practices over the years, I’ve discovered a common theme – each practice seems to have a group of patients that prove to be elusive when it comes to scheduling their outstanding treatment or overdue recall. The simple solution is to get each patient to book their next appointment upon leaving the office and then contact them prior to the appointment to confirm. But what about patients who refuse to book right away or book and then cancel their appointment later without rescheduling?

To solve this dilemma, ensuring that you retain these patients and deliver the treatment they require, let’s look at two practice management tools that you can leverage – dental software and automated patient communication.

One essential tool is your dental practice management software that, ideally, has a system to automatically:     

  • Assign contact dates for follow up with patients, based on their specific appointment interval, after they are billed a recall or scaling code
  • Create predetermination contact dates for patients after a predetermination is sent
  • Create a contact date for patients who cancel or miss an appointment
  • Assign appointment contact dates for unscheduled treatment plans for each required appointment and allow manual adjustment/entry of contact dates
  • Delete the appropriate contact(s) when the patient schedules to avoid booking duplicate appointments

Picture a virtual Rolodex with all of those contacts organized – patients requiring appointments for different reasons at specific times and intervals. Next, visualize a system that logically organizes those contacts and retrieves targeted groups based on specific selection criteria such as:

  • Due date range
  • Procedures required
  • Outstanding predeterminations
  • Cancellations and missed appointments
  • Provider

The following image shows such a system and how it manages a group of identified patients.

In the above example, ABELDent’s Contact Manager:

  1. Shows the list of patients that meet the selection criteria along with each contact’s date
  2. Displays the appointment profile for the selected patient
  3. Shows a financial summary and note profile – these boxes can be expanded for more detail
  4. Lists all contacts for the chosen patient and family members
  5. Displays future appointments booked to avoid duplication
  6. Keeps a record of previous patient contact for reference
  7. Immediately links to the appointment scheduler – once the appointment is booked, the contact is removed 

There are even more benefits to using a tool such as the one above since it will allow you to:  

  • Book all family members that are due with one phone call
  • View all relevant information from one screen before calling
  • Update patient files based on their feedback
  • Track phone call results for future reference
  • Use one click for schedule access to book the appointment
  • Send email/texts to patients not available by phone

Another increasingly popular tool to assist with boosting appointment booking and is automated patient communication.

With a keystroke, the software application sends individual “request for confirmation” and/or an “outstanding treatment notice” messages to the selected group of patients using each individual’s preferred communication method (text or email). Message recipients can then respond using their smart phone, notebook or computer and, in many cases, automatically update their e-calendars.

In fully-integrated systems, patient responses automatically update the appropriate data fields within the practice management software, for example, scheduled appointments would show as confirmed.

There is a tremendous time and cost savings opportunity when managing appointments using this technology and there is strong evidence of improved booking and appointment retention rates.

In summary, technology tools can greatly assist a dental practice with identifying and booking outstanding treatment and help the dental team fulfill production and profit goals. When staff can easily find patients that have outstanding treatment and use automated tools to remind those patients of the importance of their recommended treatment, it shows that you value their dental health and increases case acceptance.

4 Ways to Increase Patient Satisfaction and Grow Your Dental Practice

Are your patients happy?

In our line of work, this question can’t be asked often enough. Patients are at the very heart of healthcare service provision, and if the patients are unhappy, we clearly aren’t doing our job.

Oddly, while dental practice owners and administrators frequently ask me how they can expand their services and attract new patients, I don’t often get questions from people who want to ensure that they are providing the best possible experience for their patient base.

This strikes me as strange because if you aren’t keeping your current patients happy you’ll probably struggle to attract new patients. It’s no secret that few advertisements for your practice will be as effective as having a large number of satisfied patients.

For this reason, you’ll want to keep the foundation of your clientele strong and ensure that overall patient satisfaction is not compromised as you expand your practice. If you want to build your patient base without negatively affecting legacy patients, consider these four steps.

1. Survey Your Patients

In order to find out how you can create a better experience and increase patient satisfaction, first you have to find out what your current patients think could use improvement!

Every dental practice has a different mix of patient types so when it comes to offering better service there is no one-size-fits all solution: a practice that primarily serves seniors will want to focus on different aspects of care than a practice that caters to Millennial patients or young families will.

If you are trying to expand your service to include a specific patient demographic, you will have to find a way to balance the needs of your current patients with the needs of the new patients you are trying to attract.

Surveys are one of the most reliable ways to find out what your current patients like about your service and what they think could be made better. The first step toward increasing patient satisfaction should always be discovering the reasons why your current patients are unsatisfied.

You can also invest in reputation management software to quickly and easily survey your patients and encourage them to leave reviews. Positive reviews and testimonials are the single best tool to promote your brand. Did you know that Millennial consumers trust word-of-mouth advertising (including testimonials) over traditional advertising by more than 700%?

The right reputation management software will not only help you better understand what your patients think of your practice, but will also allow you to share positive experiences to help you grow your practice.

2. Enhance Your Online Services

In the twenty-first century, one of the easiest and best ways to make patients feel more plugged in is by meeting them where they are: online. Software for dentists is quickly becoming an essential tool for practices of all sizes, as they make it a lot easier to automate patient registration, track patient needs and keep treatment recommendations from falling through the cracks.

Moving to a more expansive dental practice management software that includes automated patient communication is a great way to reach out to new tech savvy patients and offer more convenience to your existing patients.

Effective use of dental practice management software also reduces no shows and short notice cancellations – a sure sign that it is keeping patients plugged in and engaged with your practice. Patients who regularly make and honour their appointments see the value in the service you offer – lower frequencies of no shows and cancellations are an indicator of improved overall patient satisfaction with the added benefit that it reduces costly downtime.  

3. Focus on Experience as Well as Service

In the dental industry, we spend a lot of time talking about the level of service we are offering. But until recently, it was fairly unusual to hear someone talk about patient experiences.

As the late health industry executive and bestselling author Fred Lee outlined in the following TEDx lecture, given in Maastricht back in 2017, patients don’t just look to healthcare providers for a service, they look for an experience of care that goes beyond the simple transaction of receiving medical help. 

It is not a question of trading one experience for another: it is about viewing patient experience as an additional dimension of the economy of your dental practice. If you want to improve patient satisfaction while attracting new patients, you’ll need to rethink the entire landscape of the patient experience and be willing to make adjustments.  

Start with why patients came to see you in the first place – to either be assured that they are on the right track with their dental hygiene and/or to receive treatment for whatever is required. In fact, your treatment plan acceptance rate is another good indicator of patient satisfaction and of whether your consultations are hitting their mark.

4. Update Your Waiting Room

If you are like most dentists or dental administrators, you put in a lot of hours at your office. Over time, this can mean that you become less sensitive to the impression it makes on new patients.

For established dental practices that have been around for a long time, this can be a major problem: a waiting room that seems familiar and comfortable may seem shabby or depressing to a new patient. 

But while updating your waiting room is important for making a good impression, it is also a great way to improve the experience for your current patients. Simple improvements like purchasing new furniture, adding access to multimedia or changing the layout can go a long way toward making your patients feel at home in your practice.

In summary, patients that are unsatisfied with the overall experience you offer will be reluctant to book appointments, follow through on scheduled appointments or recommend your practice to family, friends and colleagues.

This means that improving levels of satisfaction among your current patients needs to be job number one for any practice that is trying to expand its patient base. Remember, happy patients are the best advertisement a dental practice can get!