Best Dental Software 2020

Dental Practice Management Software Buyer's Guide

Purchasing dental practice management software can be a confusing process. This guide will help you navigate options, so you can find the best software to improve your business.

Overview

With over 15 major players in this space, deciding which practice management software is best for your practice is difficult. The best option will depend on a variety of factors like your budget, if you want a cloud or on-premise system, and which features you value the most. We will break down your options below.

Table of Contents

What to Consider Before Starting the Purchase Process

Before we begin, these are the concepts you should understand before you embark on your journey to find the perfect practice management software for you.

Cloud-based (SaaS) vs. On-premise

Understanding the distinction between cloud-based and on-premise systems is important for choosing the right software. A cloud-based system is a subscription-based service that uses off-site servers managed by your provider. You connect to these servers through the internet. An on-premise system is a license-based service that is installed on your own computers and servers. All software was on-premise before the advent of the cloud.

Software TypesProsCons
Cloud-based
  • Best for multi-location practices
  • Sync your data across all locations
  • Scalability
  • No server purchase or maintenance
  • Automatic software updates & data back-up
  • Requires a reliable internet connection
  • In some cases, SaaS subscription may be more expensive than license+maintenance for on-premise
  • Must trust vendor with data security
On-premise
  • In the long run, the cost for licenses, servers, and IT support may be cheaper than a monthly subscription to a cloud-based service
  • Requires no internet connection
  • You maintain full control over technology and data
  • Higher upfront costs for software, hardware, and infrastructure
  • Recurring cost for IT support
  • Data is only accessible on-site
  • Must preform software updates & data back-up yourself
  • Limited storage

Third-party Software Integrations

It is common in the purchasing process to find software that you may really like, but realize that it is missing a key feature that you need. For example, you may like Dentrix Ascend, but find its patient engagement isn't as robust as you would like. In this situation, you may want to find a third-party patient communication system to augment your practice management software.

Keep in mind, all software doesn’t integrate with each other. For example, here are the major patient communication tools that integrate with a few practice management software options.

Practice Management SoftwareMajor Patient Communication Software Integrations
Open DentalLighthouse 360, Practice Mojo, Revenue Well, SolutionReach, Weave, Yapi
Curve DentalEasyMarkit, Jive, Legwork, Lighthouse 360, NexHealth, SolutionReach, Weave
DentrixCall Pop, Nex Health, Project Mojo, Revenue Well, SolutionReach, Weave

Process Overview: Purchasing Your Practice Management Software

1: What problems are you trying to solve?

The first step in purchasing practice management software is identifying the parts of your business that can benefit from this type of technology. Understanding how you are going to use the software is vital in making the right choice. Some areas of your business that a practice management software can support are:

  • Patient scheduling
  • Patient engagement
  • Billing and claims process
  • Charting and note-taking

You may realize that improving certain business processes is more important for your practice. Understanding the features that are the most important for you will help you select the tool right for your practice.

2: What is my budget?

There is a wide range of pricing for practice management software. The main factors that determine the price are the number of locations, the size of your practice, feature richness of the tools, and add-on features.

Cloud-based systems are monthly or annual subscriptions. In general, these subscriptions start at a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars for large DSOs.

On-premise systems have a larger upfront fee for licensing, installation, and technical support. The total upfront cost ranges between $2,000 and $7,000, plus a monthly service charge of ~$100. You will also have to purchase and maintain servers which start at around $500.

3: What software is available?

The next step is to get to a short list of vendors that you are most interested in evaluating. A good place to start is our dental category page. When narrowing down your list, consider these factors:

  • Number of locations
  • Cloud-based or on-premise
  • Preference for more basic or advance tools
  • Budget
  • Key features

4: Talking to sales representatives

Once you have your shortlist of vendors, it is time to reach out to those business’ sales representatives. Talking to sales representatives is a helpful step in making the right choice. They often direct you to helpful resources, and answer many of the questions you may have. Questions you should ask include:

  • What is the cost of your software for my practice?
  • What on-going services and support are included in this cost?
  • What add-on fees exist?
  • Is there a cost for implementation?
  • Which other systems do you most commonly compete with?
  • Does your system have the key features that are the most important to me?
  • What are common frustrations with your system?
  • How long does it take to implement your system?
  • How many customers do you have? How does that compare to last year?
  • Does your practice management system integrate with the software & hardware that I want to use?

A good tip is to talk to representatives from a number of companies. All sales representatives are employed by the vendors they represent, and they may offer biased opinions of the software you are researching.

5: Software evaluation

At this point in the process, you should know the 2-3 tools you are most likely to purchase. The next step is an in-depth evaluation of each tool. Some vendors offer free trials, so you can get hands-on experience with the tool. The majority of vendors offer a demo where a representative will walk you through major features. Key things you should look for during this process is:

  • Does the tool include all my must-have features?
  • Does the tool have a well-designed interface?
  • Is the tool easy to navigate?

6: Negotiate price

After evaluating the tools, hopefully you found 1-2 tools that you want to purchase. It is time to negotiate with the vendor. Here are a few best practices to get a favorable deal for your practice:

Best PracticeDescription

Get the company to negotiate against itselfWhen a company shares its first proposal, quickly look at the price, and ask how much room they think there is on pricing. If successful, you will get the company to lower its price, before starting the negotiation.
Have a BATNABATNA stands for best alternative to a negotiated agreement. In other words, you will be in a stronger negotiating position if you have a second option that you like. If your first choice won’t negotiate, you can choose to walk away from the agreement.
Use the empty chair strategyIn the late stages of the negotiation, ensure that your main decision maker is not in the room. This way, the person from your practice who is negotiating doesn’t have to give final answers, and your team has additional time to make decisions.
Annual price increase limitAssuming this is a tool you plan to use for a long time, it’s advantageous to establish a limit on future price increases. We recommend negotiating for an annual price increase limit of <5%.

7: Sign the contract

Now that you have decided on which software you would like to purchase, and have negotiated a price, it’s time to sign the contract. Two important things to consider during this process are:

Key Contract TermsDescription
Service-level Agreement (SLA)SLAs are commitments to quality, availability, and responsibility between a service provider and a client. Key commitments you want from the vendor are:
  • Software uptime
  • Customer support response time
  • Customer service channels
  • Hours of availability
Data after contract terminationIt's important to define the length of time your data will be stored after the contract is terminated. This ensures that you will have enough time to transfer your data to a new system.

8: Training

Training is a critical part of the onboarding process to ensure your staff is able to fully utilize the software. Common training methods include seminars and workshops. Also, there are usually online resources available such as tutorials and knowledge centers.

Here are a couple training tips we discovered when we spoke to Katrina Kamper, a dental assistant at Silver Lake Dental in Chicago.

  • Do a run through of the software with a dummy patient. This will allow your team to see the actual workflow when they are treating patients with the software.
  • Train your staff close to the date of implementation. A gap between training and usage makes adoption more difficult.

9: Post-purchase implementation

During implementation, it’s important to establish a roadmap that details the phases of implementation, and when each will be complete. Your practice and the vendor should be working very closely to ensure your system has the features you were sold, and that your existing data is successfully transferred into the new system.

Once your system is implemented, here are a couple best practices to make sure you and your staff are using the software to its full potential:

  • Arrange regular meetings with an account representative. This will establish a communication channel with your vendor to suggest new features & integrations, share technical issues, or convey complaints about the software.
  • Organize consistent conversations with your team to find pain points when using the software. You can work with vendors to get them resolved.

What are the Features of Practice Management Software?

Below are the core features you will find in most practice management software.

Patient portal

Some practice management systems offer a patient portal, where your patients can schedule appointments, make & review payments, and view treatment history. This feature not only allows your patients easier access to information and services, but also reduces staff workload by minimizing customer service responsibilities.

CareStack Patient Portal

Patient Engagement

Many practice management systems have a patient engagement functionality that will help you better communicate with your patients. This functionality will help you build relationships with your patients, and improve customer satisfaction.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • Two-way texting
  • Automated appointment reminders
  • Check-in kiosk
  • Call pop
  • Patient recall
  • Email Marketing
CareStack Campaign Recipients

Appointments and Scheduling

Most practice management systems will come with a module for appointments and scheduling. It is generally used by your front office to maintain a full schedule, and ensure efficient patient treatment. A good practice management system will result in increased utilization of your time and reduce no-shows.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • Text & email appointment reminders
  • 24/7 online booking
  • Intuitive and customizable calendar
  • Patient status tracking
Curve Dental Scheduler

Charting and Note-taking

Practice management systems should have robust and intuitive charting and note-taking, so you can quickly record the results of examinations. A good practice management system will improve your clinical efficiency, so you can spend more time building patient relationships chair-side, and accelerate the check-out process.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • Templatized treatment planner
  • Easy-to-use charts
  • Seamless imaging, charting, and treatment integration
ascend quick exam

Billing

A good practice management system will allow you to quickly generate accurate billing statements. You want your billing module to be very integrated with your software, so you can seamlessly begin the billing process after you finish the appointment.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • Billing auditing
  • Seamless billing module integration
  • Payment option management
Curve Dental Patient Ledger

Claims

A good practice management system will accelerate your insurance claims processing. It should have features that help you process claims accurately, and improve your rate of claim acceptance.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • CDT code support
  • Patient eligibility monitoring
  • E-claims that work for insurance companies you bill from most
  • Electronic EOBs
  • Claims and payment status tracking
  • Supporting documentation assistance
CareStack Claims

Business analytics

Some practice management systems will have a business analytics module that helps you monitor your practice's performance. This tool is especially helpful when auditing multiple locations.

Some core features you want to look for are:

  • Real-time data population
  • Customizable dashboard
  • Large KPI library
  • Export in Excel files, CSVs and PDFs
CareStack Production Dashboard

Customer support

Good vendors have great customer support that cater to your issues. Some metrics you want to consider are:

  • Availability
  • Response time
  • Issue resolution rate

How Do I Decide the Best System for Me?

Now that you are knowledgeable of the purchase process and the most important features, here's our top software recommendations. Each of the tools below are high-quality, but work best for different types of practices.

Single-location practices

In general, we recommend cloud-based solutions for most practices. However, on-premise software does work better for single location practices. For cloud-based solutions, we recommend Dentrix Ascend, Carestack, Curve Dental, and Denticon. For on-premise solutions, we recommend Open Dental or Dentrix G7.

Cloud-based
  • If you want innovative software with a modern user interface, we recommend CareStack or Curve Dental
  • If you are familiar with Dentrix and want to move to the cloud, we recommend Dentrix Ascend
  • If you want a popular and proven software, we recommend Denticon
On-premise
  • If you are tech savvy and want to save money, we recommend Open Dental
  • If you want a tried and true software, we recommend Dentrix G7 and Eaglesoft

Multiple-location practices

SoftwarePundit highly recommends that practices with multiple locations choose a cloud-based practice management system. Benefits from cloud-based systems include data visibility and scalability. Our recommended cloud-based solutions are Dentrix Ascend, Carestack, Curve Dental, and Denticon. For on-premise software, we recommend Open Dental.

Cloud-based
  • If you want innovative software with a modern user interface, we recommend Carestack and Curve Dental
  • If you are familiar with Dentrix and want to move to the cloud, we recommend Dentrix Ascend
  • If you want a popular and proven software, we recommend Denticon
On-premise
  • If you are tech savvy and want to save money, we recommend Open Dental
  • If you want a tried and true software, we recommend Dentrix G7 or Eaglesoft
Lloyd Park

Lloyd Park is a Junior Research Analyst at SoftwarePundit, where he conducts in-depth analyses of software markets and products. Lloyd also has experience managing the development of software platforms and is an expert in content production & media software.

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