BuyerView | 2014
Every year, Software Advice speaks with hundreds of dental professionals searching for dentistry software solutions. To find out what drives practices to purchase these systems and why, we recently analyzed data from 368 interactions with prospective dental software buyers. Here's what we found.
Our data was evaluated by Dentistry Today Technology Editor Dr. Paul Feuerstein, DMD. Dr. Feuerstein runs a private dental practice in Massachusetts and gives lectures on dental technology across the country. His insights on Software Advice’s findings are included in the report below, which shed light on motivating factors, common concerns and emerging trends in the world of dentistry.
The overwhelming majority of prospective buyers (93 percent) were seeking integrated suites, meaning systems that incorporate multiple applications into one software package. The alternative to that is buying one or more stand-alone, or "best-of-breed," applications. Only 5 percent of buyers preferred a best-of-breed solution, while 2 percent were OK with using multiple products.
This finding is in line with Dr. Feuerstein’s expectations.
“The dentist doesn't have the time or knowledge to cobble together a unique setup for his or her office,” he says. However, he notes that some dental practices—especially those that still employ manual methods—will seek out a “one process software” for such functions as accounting.
Health information technology (IT) experts advise best-of-breed buyers to double-check with vendors in ensuring standalone software options can interface smoothly with their current practice management system.
While the data above shows most buyers know what kind of system they want, significantly fewer have determined how they want it to be deployed. Sixty-nine percent have no preference between Web-based and on-premise solutions.
Among those with a preference, Web-based deployment was the favorite: 22 percent of buyers selected it, compared to just 9 percent who preferred an on-premise solution.
The fact that most of our buyers were open to either deployment method suggests there is plenty of room for buyer education and engagement.
Dr. Feuerstein believes electronic records technology, as a whole, must overcome “concerns about privacy and security” before dentists come to more clearly understand and define individual preferences.
Web-based deployment, the newer of the two methods, once faced misgivings from the health industry as a whole—but it is now on the rise, as healthcare providers increasingly adopt cloud-based technology. Part of its appeal is based on the fact that cloud computing solutions are typically more affordable and hands-off than on-premise systems. Instead of buying and installing the software on a local server, dental practices pay for a subscription (usually monthly) to access the software in the cloud. There is no need for software updates or remote backups of data, since the software is maintained and hosted off-site, on the vendor's servers.
However, Dr. Feuerstein says, some practices are not convinced that Web-based solutions are as sophisticated as on-premise options.
Web-based systems are “missing a few of the bells and whistles of the current in-office systems,” he explains. “But they are rapidly improving, and should serve the needs of most practices at this time.”
Fifty-one percent of buyers are still relying on manual methods, with 30 percent using paper exclusively in their practice, and the other 21 percent employing a combination of paper records and commercial or proprietary software.
Forty-one percent of prospective buyers are looking to replace or add applications onto an existing software system. One percent of our sample exclusively used proprietary software, while 7 percent did not have any current methods to share with us, often because they were in the process of starting a new practice.
Many practitioners still use manual methods partly because the incentives for dentists to “go paperless” are not as compelling or clear as they could be.
For instance, rumors persist claiming it will soon be mandatory to implement dental electronic health records (EHRs), despite attempts by the American Dental Association to help set the record straight. This confusion could be prompting some dentists to explore electronic options without making the leap to adopt the technology. That could especially be the case for more senior dentists, who need extra convincing about the merits of using software.
“It is still easier for practitioners who grew up just before the digital age to use pen and paper for notes, [because] they feel it is faster and [capable of] fuller descriptions,” says Dr. Feuerstein. “This is without understanding the methods of documentation such as templates, drop-down menus and more that make [electronic] methods faster, more efficient, more accurate and, most importantly: readable.”
When it comes to financial benefits, a monetary incentive program is offered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for dentists who convert to qualifying dental EHRs. The government is further incentivizing dentists to adopt EHRs by announcing that dental Medicare payments will be reduced by 1 percent, starting in 2015, for practices that have not made the switch to software.
However, many dental practices are not particularly moved by these plans and programs: Medicare reimbursement excludes several dental services, and eligibility requirements state that 30 percent of services rendered must be to Medicaid patients.
Most potential buyers specifically cited imaging device and/or digital sensor integration as their top software request. Eighteen percent responded this way, with some mentioning they were shopping for imaging hardware and software at the same time so both could be compatible from the start.
Frustration with older, incompatible imaging methods could be a key concern for dentists looking to purchase software, according to Dr. Feuerstein.
“There are many different digital x-ray systems, for example, that have proprietary software,” he says. “Some of the older practice management systems use a ‘clunky’ interface with these systems and/or bridges. This is not impossible to work with, but the more seamless and fewer steps required to take and see an image, [the better].”
Our respondents’ other popular software requests included modules. Modules are aspects of a software application that perform specific functions. Robust recall and appointment reminder systems topped the list, with 17 percent of buyers seeking those solutions to improve patient retention rates.
The rest of the requested modules were mentioned by 5 percent or less of the potential buyers in our sample and included reporting, coding and staff scheduling solutions.
Whereas most respondents told us imaging/sensor integration would be “nice to have,” only 7 percent actually said they needed it as an application. In fact, the must-have application resulted to be patient scheduling, with 94 percent of buyers citing it. Billing and EHR were also popular, with 92 and 89 percent requesting those categories, respectively.
The fact that all of the top three applications garnered such similarly strong percentages supports our first key finding: that dental practice buyers favor integrated suites. In fact, the most commonly cited reason respondents gave us for replacing their current software is that they needed improved integration. Nineteen percent of buyers were unsatisfied with the level of integration offered by their current methods.
Dr. Feuerstein provided some context on the 10 percent of prospective buyers who wanted their next software purchase to comply with government standards.
“HIPAA compliance is high on the list,” he says.
The federal government mandated changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) with a compliance date of September 23, 2013. These changes encompassed privacy, security and breach notification requirements commonly referred to as the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule.
Some buyers told us one of the pain points with their current software was that it required upgrades to meet these new regulations.
“The assumption at this time is that the newest software will be compliant,” says Dr. Feuerstein, adding that older systems may have “security holes.”
Most of our buyers came from small practices with a limited amount of employees and potential software users. As a result, the majority described their needs as “straightforward,” and they highly valued systems that had user-friendly interfaces “for non-techies.”
Our sample primarily consisted of the smaller end of the market, with more than half of respondents practicing dentistry solo, 23 percent employing two doctors and the rest of the 16 percent representing various iterations of multi-dentist practices.
Further, the great majority of our sample (93 percent) employed 10 or less employees.
Given this, it’s not surprising that nearly three-fourths of respondents said their next software purchase was intended for just two to five users.
Finally, the buyers we spoke to came from a variety of dental concentrations, but the majority represented general dentistry practices. Among those in special segments, some buyers expressed a desire for customizable software templates fit for their particular field.
Software Advice regularly speaks with buyers who contact us seeking new dental software. To create this report, we selected 368 recent phone interactions to analyze. These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection, and may not be indicative of the market as a whole.
If you’d like to further discuss this report or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.