Focus On: Cloud Computing

Ted Takahashi
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Ted Takahashi talks about how transitioning your practice management software from a server to the cloud can save you time and money.

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Q: Is dentistry ready for cloud computing?

A: It should be! More than half of Americans are under the age of 40, with 95% having smart- phone ownership. Millennials and Gen Z have come to expect advanced communications through online appointment reminders, online scheduling, and texting directly to the practice in real time. Dental practices are already embracing wearable devices, electronic health records, e-claims, practice health analytics, and social media—most of which are cloud-based. Traditional office computer networks are server-based, ie, the records and transactions are residing in a “special” computer inside the office, which is usually maintained and monitored by IT companies at a monthly cost. With a local server, the need for monthly IT support and managed backups can easily cost $500 per month or more. Simple math shows that these costs soar to $30,000 over just 5 years.

With the current news of hackers and ransomware, as well as catastrophic events such as fires and floods, these servers are put at risk. Remote cloud computing solutions replace the expensive server and offer safe data storage and backup, reducing much of this worry. Disconnecting the server reduces overhead costs, saving valuable time, and allows practices to thrive. But in order to prepare the office for this transition, dental practices will need to embrace a specific plan of implementation.

Q: How do you transition from server to cloud?

A: Understanding the big picture defines the vision for the practice. The detailed steps to achieve the goal is the plan! Don’t expect the cloud software sales reps to do this for you. They sell the product and will install it, but not all of them will hold your hand when preparing for the installation. Planning is like the foundation of a building: Even the slightest flaw leads to bigger problems down the line. Because each dental practice is unique, wrapping a good plan around practice goals (prior to initiating product demonstrations) is the best strategy.

If you need help, now is the time!

The equipment-first mentality started with the design of dental treatment rooms. Many rooms were planned around the equipment, not the processes or workflow, leading to inefficient use of square footage. This can also apply to standardized technology systems, their setup, and how they integrate. In addition, established practices may have older computers and network infrastructures that may or may not work with new software, which is something that must be identified before any conversion.

Q: How will this benefit my practice?

A: The cloud disconnects the local server and frees dentists from the financial burden that comes with IT services. Your plan also should allow the dental practice to simplify, automate, and transform old paper-based systems to a datacentric workflow. As a result, less time will be spent worrying about maintenance, allowing more time for analyzing data and identifying issues, which will lead to better practice health.

Q: How do I transition my software to the cloud?

A: In planning, think about the big picture by starting with the end in mind and working backward from there. As a dental practice owner, you want maximum ROI on every investment that you make. Identify what you need and why before starting to shop because the least expensive way to integrate technology is to do it right the first time! Look at training, support, and service as they are significant costs that must be accounted for. Competitive bidding can save thousands on equipment and IT support, and, as noted, the potential cost savings over time is an eye-opener.
 
Over the years in my consulting business, I have been able to help practices with a plan called “Dental Technology 2.0.” This idea of “look before you leap” has been a great strategy for hundreds of dental practices for decades. In short, it works!
 
Here are the 6 steps that I have found most useful:
 
Step 1. Assess existing technology
 
Step 2. Develop a clear vision and plan of action
 
Step 3. Pick the right upgrade path
 
Step 4. Compare dental software and cloud platforms
 
Step 5. Integrate dental technology
 
Step 6. Do a price control check
 
Q: Will this reduce my operating costs?
 
A: I have already stated that servers are expensive and can cost thousands of dollars. That doesn’t include maintenance, service, backups, and upgrades. Plus, they are just as expensive to replace when they become old and tired, and there are issues converting to new hardware, as many of you have seen. With cloud computing, a browser and internet are all that’s needed for full access to your dental programs, patient data, and images. Monthly costs add up, so part of the plan is developing itemized spreadsheets to identify blatant or needless costs. The truth is always in the numbers.
 
Q: What about safety?
 
A: Since the server is being managed for you, there are no worries about installing updates. The data, offsite, is already backed up (and there can be redundant systems for even more safety), which saves time and takes away the anguish of forgetting to back up or wondering if those backups are accurate. Note that removing these costs could cover the cloud platform, HIPAA compliance services, and backup. A comprehensive cost analysis will verify where your practice stands.
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 
Mr. Takahashi is the owner of T2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in unbiased expert advice for the dental industry. He can be reached at ted@t2consulting.com or at the website tedtakahashi.com/technology.
 
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