We 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
Knowing 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.