New PMS! No… Not That Kind!

open dental--6We all have a long “to do” list, both at home and the office.  One item that’s been on my list at the office has been to upgrade the computer and Practice Management Software (PMS).

I’ve delayed doing it for a few reasons.  First, my computer and PMS have been working just fine.  If it ain’t broke, why fix it, eh?  But, here’s the thing…  I knew I was working with a ticking time bomb of a computer.  Believe it or not, my front desk computer is a Windows 98 machine.  I’m not kidding.  It’s at least 12 years old, and it’s still running!  It moans and groans on start-up.

Windows 98! Really!

Windows 98! Really!

The power supply fan is rather loud (bearings are probably shot).  But, it works!  Laugh at me all you want!  Windows 98 is still regarded as the most stable version of Windows.  My old computer never crashed.  Not once in all those years.

open dental--5

For the PMS, I’ve been running Softdent version 9.1b.  That’s many, many generations old.  It WORKED!  It served me well.  But, this old version didn’t even have a field in the patient chart for an email address or cell phone.

But, I’ve become increasingly worried that one day, I’d hear a “pop” and see a puff of smoke around the old computer.  The next puff of smoke would be coming out of my ears.  Sure, we backed it up every day.  But, it’s so old, what am I going to RESTORE it to??  This version of Softdent required a “dongle” plugged into a parallel port for the software to work.  Dongles were the old school version of a software key.  Today’s computers don’t even have a parallel port.  So, again… how would I have restored it to a new computer?  The answer is:  I wouldn’t be able to.  And, that’s not good!

When would now be a good time?

It was time.  But, when I considered updating the computer and to the latest version of Softdent, it was going to cost a LOT.  Changing to one of the other “big players” was going to be equally expensive.  I heard it could be $7,000 – $10,000.  Just for the front desk!  (I’m not yet computerized in the ops.)  So, that pushed my procrastination further along.

I recently worked in a friend’s practice (she was recovering from a broken arm).  She uses Dentrix.  So, I got to spend a couple of months using it.  I didn’t like it much.  I found the interface very busy with tiny unrecognizable icons which I had to hover over (text box pops up) to see what they were.  Also it is notoriously expensive and you have to buy separate “modules” to implement additional features.

I’d like to phone a friend, Regis.

I called a friend who has worked in the dental software industry for many years.  He now works for one of the digital x-ray companies.  He asked me if I knew about Open Dental.  I had heard of it, but I had not paid any attention to anything in this industry, since I had no immediate plans… until now.

I began to research Open Dental and liked what I found.  I went to Dentaltown and couldn’t find any negative reviews.  In fact, many dentists had switched from big players like Softdent and Dentrix over to Open Dental and said it was the best thing they’ve done.

Open Dental website home page.

Open Dental website home page.  Click image for link.

Let’s face it… we all need a PMS that does pretty much the same things in our dental practices.  They all accomplish those tasks in some fashion.  The interfaces are different.  The details of how the PMSes accomplish those tasks may be slightly different.  But, we all use them to do all the common daily tasks in a dental practice.

Can it really be that much better?

What’s so great about Open Dental?  As it turns out, many things.

  1. It is a robust program that includes everything you’ll need.  There are no extra “modules” to buy when to add charting, imaging / x-rays, etc.  It’s all included.
  2. You can download a FREE trial version of the program, AND Open Dental will even do a trial conversion of the data from your old PMS for FREE.  That means you can explore, experiment, and learn the program with your existing patient data.  You can encourage your team to play with it and have no worries about “screwing anything up.”  Open Dental also has a bunch of recorded webinars that show you how to use the software.
  3. Open Dental uses an “open source” database called “mySQL,” which is the world’s most popular database.  In contrast, all the other major players use proprietary databases.  What’s the advantage of open source?  It means that Open Dental will interface with ALL the digital x-ray systems on the market, for example (at no extra cost).  Whatever you want to add on a feature or upgrade… is not a problem.  With the other guys, you’re locked into buying their modules or will have to buy an additional “bridge” software module.  Open architecture is a pretty big deal!
  4. Open Dental is super-duper customizable by the user.  I’m just beginning to learn the depth of customizable features.  After I’ve used it for some time, I’ll be writing up a review.
  5. Last, but not least… the COST.  Honestly, I couldn’t believe the significantly lower cost of Open Dental compared to the other players.  Here’s the deal:  To purchase the software, you simply commit to paying $149 / month for six months.  There is also a charge of about $700 for the final data conversion (a bargain, if you ask me).  After the six month commitment, you can drop out (and keep the software).  Though it makes sense to stay on for support and continued updates to the software.  After 12 months, the monthly support / update fee drops to $99 per month.  That’s it!  What a deal!  Most of the other PMSes will cost several thousand dollars up front for the software, and then $150 – $200 / month for support and updates.  And, if you want to add charting, x-rays, imaging, patient check-in kiosks, etc… you pay thousands more for “modules” and “bridges.”

Let’s get this party started!

Laptop errorKnowing I was living on borrowed time with my old computer, I was anxious to make the move.  My office manager felt the same way.  Let’s do this!  So, I got a new computer and installed a trial version of Open Dental.  Then the nice folks at OD did a trial data conversion for me.  I asked my office manager to make a list of the most common things she does every day…

  • making appointments
  • adding new patients
  • creating a treatment plan
  • filing an insurance claim
  • making a payment
  • printing a walk-out statement
  • and so on.

Then last Friday (no patients), we watched the recorded “Open Dental Basics” webinar.  We just watched the first one (Basics).  It’s about an hour long.  After that, I said, “OK, Jo-Ann.  Let’s go through the list and see if we can do it.”  And, so we did.  We were able to accomplish each task the first time.  Easy peasy!  My plan was to make the switch as long as we could competently perform the essential daily activities.  We could learn the finer points of the software as we used it in the practice.  We were ready!

Screen shot of a patient chart in Open dental. Click on image to see a larger version.

Next, I became an Open Dental customer (auto payments of $149 / month) and my trial version became the full-featured software.

First things, first.

Open Dental sends you a “pre-conversion” checklist that gets you organized for the final data conversion.  Once you’ve checked off each one, you fax that to them and schedule your final conversion.

The new computer and Open Dental ready to roll!

The new computer and Open Dental ready to roll!

Today was that day.  It was easy and seamless.  A tech at Open Dental calls and you let them use your computer remotely.  They take the latest data from the old PMS and begin the final conversion.  It took only a couple of hours.  After that, we were good to go!  Open Dental also gives you a “post-conversion” checklist to go over after the installation.  On Monday, we will start using Open Dental to manage the practice.

Na, na, na, naaa… Hey, hey, hey… good-bye.

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Old computer at back of front desk area – “just in case” we need to refer back to something we can’t find in the transferred data.

I’ve moved the old computer to the back counter in the front desk area.  If, for some reason, we need to refer back to our old Softdent database, we can fire that relic up.  I’ll leave it there for 6 months, or so… and then it’s “hasta la vista!”

This is a major burden lifted from my mind!  I’m relieved that I won’t have to worry about my old computer going up in smoke and the practice being dead in the water.

What’s next?

Phase II will be adding computers in the ops so we can go “paperless.”  I look forward to not writing charts by hand.  I can type much faster (and neater) than I can write.  Writing is tedious!

Phase III will be adding digital x-rays, though I’m not in a hurry to do it.  I’m yet to be impressed with the diagnostic quality of digital x-rays, especially given the stupid-high costs.  Yet, I’m sure I will eventually succumb.

And, I will not need to buy any additional “modules” to implement Phase II and III.

Stay tuned!

After we’ve used Open Dental for a while, I’ll post a follow-up review.  I have no financial interest in Open Dental.  I was not compensated for writing this article.  I am a paying customer.  In fact, they have no idea I’m doing this.

Edit to add (July 10th, 2014):

We just finished our first week with Open Dental at the office.  It has gone quite smoothly!  We’ve had a few minor glitches, but we were able to figure them out on our own.  We haven’t had to call tech support, yet.  I have made a list of questions, but I’ve managed to answer most of them myself.  We will eventually make a call to get some help with a few things.  But, overall, my entire team is very happy with Open Dental.  The more I learn about Open Dental, the more I like it!

If you have any comments about this PMS or others, chime in below in the comment section!

Edit to add (January 2017):

I’m 2-1/2 years into Open Dental.  No regrets AT ALL.  The few times we’ve had to contact OD for support / help, they’ve been GREAT!  Their customer service is outstanding, and highly regarded among the users I see on dental social media.

Open Dental updates (and improves) the software several times a year.

My staff loves OD.  It’s really SO easy to use.

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11 Responses to New PMS! No… Not That Kind!

  1. Bob Marcus says:

    I switched to OpenDental about 18 months go after 15 years of suffering with SoftDent. What a difference. Highly recommended.

  2. Sheila Brush says:

    We switched from Dentrix to Open Dental about 5 years ago. I love it, my IT company loves it. It is powerful, and has features we haven’t yet implemented fully. The support is PHENOMENAL, and OD is very responsive to requests for additional features.

  3. Mark Bourcier DMD says:

    Very helpful, Mike. We are on Eaglesoft and though we like it, I do believe the cloud is the future, and from what you have written it seems a lot less expensive. We spend in the tens of thousands every year on “support fees” (extortion) and IT services to maintain a huge network. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. and do keep us updated.

  4. Jan Frederick says:

    7 years with OD after hating Softdent’s horrible support. What took you so long Mike? 😉

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      I haven’t used Softdent’s support for a dozen years (or more). I’ve heard that SD’s customer support is abysmal. I’ve heard similar stories about other big players, too. I left off at version 9.1b (whenever that was). It did what we needed it to do. My main problem was impending (and inevitable) hardware failure. Being forced to update the hardware = being forced to update the software.

      Back in 1994, I think it cost me about $4,000 to buy Softdent. Only in dentistry does the cost of technology go UP! We are getting GOUGED as a profession.

      One of my tenets here on the blog is to review products and services that maximize VALUE. Spending high four-figure to five-figure dollars for freakin’ SOFTWARE to run a dental practice is INSANE. We aren’t running a nuclear reactor, folks.

      The more I looked into it, the more Open Dental became a no-brainer.

  5. Joe Hair says:

    Hi Mike,

    We have been using Open Dental for 8 years, and I have never regretted it. I was unaware there were training modules – we never had any training – it is SO VERY intuitive.

    The thing that sold me was Jordan Sparks himself. He told me that I would always have access to all of my data: it would not be hidden in some kind of proprietary file, so I would always be free to take my data to any other PMS.

    To me, this was huge! Every other PMS locked you into their proprietary web so that no true data conversion existed – you were locked into that system like a bad marriage. Divorce would be expensive.

    On the other hand, Open Dental’s initial cost was less than what I was currently paying my previous PMS for support and updates. Mike, you think your PMS was old? My previous PMS was a UNIX program. It ran a terminal and 2 workstations with 5 screens each on a computer that was less than a 286 with 1 meg ram.

    I thought it was refreshing to find a company that was confident enough in their product that they would tell me that all of my data was safe, but always accessible to me to take to another PMS if I chose to do so at any time.

    You’ve made an excellent choice, Mike. You will never regret it.

  6. Kathleen Smith says:

    I’d just like to mention that after reading this post I researched into Open Dental for my office as well. We had been suffering with Easy Dental and horrible lag issues for years. Our IT guy wanted us to upgrade our hardware but the specs should have been perfectly fine to run something so basic as Easy Dental (not like we are super fancy with the Dentrix!). I downloaded Open Dental’s trial version onto a laptop and told the dentist “play with this for the weekend and let me know what you think”. By Friday evening I got a text saying he was in love with the software and raving about all the great features.

    Needless to say, three weeks later we were happy customers of Open Dental. All of our other programs we run integrated flawlessly (XDR, SmileReminder, etc). The Open Dental techs are amazingly knowledgeable and NICE. Like, really really nice. We have been using the program for about a month now and the entire office couldn’t be happier. Best of all, NO LAG. None. Our appointments and checkouts are running much faster now that we don’t have the blue circle of death preventing us from doing things.

    So THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this. I had never even thought to look in to open source dental software before. And yeah, my IT guy totally geeked out after seeing we are now using an open source program.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      That’s AWESOME, Kathleen! Open Dental really is impressive. I contend that if every dentist actually tried it, the other companies would go out of business. It is THAT much better.

  7. brad says:

    Does anyone have any experience converting from eaglesoft to opendental? I am interested in learning about imaging with open dental. I am currently using schick 33 sensors with eaglesoft imaging and would like to reach out to anyone who may have converted over to open dental with the same set up and how they did it and whether it works well or not. Thank you to any advice, suggestions and experiences.

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