Dental practices began significant electronic data processing after the introduction of the IBM microcomputer and the manufacture of cheap alternatives from competing suppliers of what were initially called IBM compatibles. These computers were small, powerful for the time and capable of being connected together to form a network that enabled easy collection and display of data suitable for practices of any size.
The early practice management software design was based on fulfilling the requirements of a typical dental practice, seen as an independent single unit that offered mainly NHS treatment, which was the norm at that time.
In essence the software recorded personal details of the patient, surgery functions, recalls, outstanding accounts, an appointment book and a transmission system that met DPB specifications.
Software companies emerged to sell, install and train staff on a variety of practice management systems and were quite successful in doing so. The problem was rather how to provide good software support. Supporting customers who in general were not IT literate with only the telephone line or on-site visits as a means of identifying, explaining or correcting software queries was difficult.
Luckily, although only slowly, internet access improved, to the point in the last decade where it has become the chosen route to provide software support.
Current dental contract
The introduction of the current dental contract in 2006 was responsible for changing dental practice management in two important ways. Firstly, a substantial group of practices have been acquired by corporates.
Secondly, there has been a marked increase in the number of independent practices offering substantial amounts of private treatment. The existing practice management software needed modification to reflect the increased scope and diversity in the business of dentistry. Software design based on the presence of a single NHS dental unit was no longer sufficient.
Corporates want central control of their business in addition to the needs for conventional practice management, whilst independent practices have realised that a more positive marketing effort focused on their patients is necessary to increase and maintain their private dentistry business.
Software suppliers will meet these needs by design modification of practice management software, taking advantage of the use of high speed, fibre optic broadband to provide additional remote communication features and email marketing options.
The future of practice management software will see the traditional practice database physically move from the practice location to a remote server in the ‘cloud’ where professional management, maintenance and support will occur, removing the need for in-house IT expertise. Local computers, of your choice and in your chosen location, will be permitted to access the remote server using reliable high-speed broadband. The outcome will be the provision of robust, professional and economic solutions.