We spoke with Kevin Rossen, founder of Divergent Dental, and office manager of Rossen Dental in The Colony, Texas. As a prominent member of the Open Dental community, Kevin has helped many other practices find ways to get the most out of Open Dental. In this interview, he discusses why he transitioned Rossen Dental to Open Dental in the first place, and why he believes it's a better practice management system than some of the larger names in the industry, at a fraction of the price.
Kevin also discusses why one of Open Dental's major selling points is that it gives users full access to their data, and how he leveraged this capability to create powerful custom reports for Rossen Dental. He then decided to launch Divergent Dental to share these reporting capabilities with other practices, enabling them to make data-driven decisions and provide better care for their patients.
Could you introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your background in dentistry and technology?
My family has been in dentistry since before I was born. My dad is a dentist, and he's been practicing for over 40 years. About 5 years ago, I went to work for my dad to manage his front office -- he was having a temporary staff shortage, since many of his staff members were on maternity leave. I volunteered to help out during this time, and I initially thought that this would be a short-term involvement. But I've been working here ever since then, and have had a lot of fun. I've enjoyed helping the practice grow and transition to new technologies, including a paperless charting system with Open Dental.
I also have a strong background in technology. I've always been a computer tinkerer, and I’ve always been considered the IT-help guy in my circle of friends. A few years ago, I launched Divergent Dental, as a byproduct for me to help manage my dad's practice. I figured out how to automate the data we needed, in order to analyze and help grow our practice. For the last 2 years, I've been offering these same capabilities to other dental practices through Divergent Dental. Divergent Dental helps people manage their practice by providing daily, weekly, and monthly email reports, which enables practices to keep track of key metrics that can be used to identify opportunities for improvement.
How did you learn about Open Dental in the first place?
Our practice started using PracticeWorks in the late '90s for handling our appointment book, and for billing insurance. For charting, we were using paper until 2013, when we decided that we wanted to move to paperless charting. We were a fairly busy practice, and we would see about 30-40 patients each day. PracticeWorks was very limiting in their technology, in that only one user could access a patient's chart at one time. It was also slow at loading in the chart, and it wasn't very intuitive. I thought that using PracticeWorks for charting with that many patients would be a pain. So, I knew that we would have to switch to another system.
I started researching options, and I saw a lot of people speaking positively about Open Dental in Dentaltown specifically. I was familiar with Open Dental as a concept, but I didn't know much about it. I downloaded the free trial, and my first experience was actually pretty underwhelming -- I didn't see what all the excitement was about. But we did a free trial conversion from PracticeWorks to Open Dental, and I was able to interact with the software with our real data, which let me see what it would be like to use it on a day-to-day basis. Then I saw how fast it was at moving from one module to another, and how useful it was with different automations. The installation process and upgrade process was also really easy. Not only was it faster than PracticeWorks and did everything that we needed it to do, but it was also less expensive -- it was less than half the support fee of PracticeWorks. So switching from PracticeWorks to Open Dental was a no-brainer for us at that point.
We've been using Open Dental ever since November 2013, and have been using it for digital note-taking for all of our patients. For the most part, the transition from PracticeWorks went smoothly, and all of our data ported over pretty easily. It took our office a few weeks of head scratching here or there to reprogram our brains, since we were all used to using PracticeWorks for so long, and had to learn a new system. But after the first week or two of using the software, it's been smooth sailing since then, and we've been extremely happy with the conversion. If you've ever used any practice management software in the past, you can learn how to use Open Dental.
My dad says that Open Dental is the third best purchase he's ever made in dental technology, with the other 2 being digital X-rays and CEREC.
Open Dental is an open-source project. How important is that to you?
There are a few reasons why this matters.
First, hypothetically, if Open Dental were to go out of business, the source code is freely available, and you'd be able to build a fully functional version of the software from the source code, without having to pay a dime. Granted, I don't see this happening, given how popular Open Dental is -- right now they may be number 3 or 4 in terms of market share, but in the next 5 years I could see them becoming number 1, since so many new practices are using it.
Another benefit to being open-source is that Open Dental can integrate with virtually any service, so that for example, you're not locked into certain imaging systems sensors. We've used Carestream and Patterson for imaging, and 3D imaging software as well, and never had any issues with their integration with Open Dental. With other practice management software, you may not have this flexibility and might be locked into using other imaging systems.
One of Open Dental's major selling points is that it exposes the database schema (the different fields, and what they mean), and gives you full access to the database. How important was this to you in your decision to use Open Dental?
Full access to the entire database appealed to me a lot, because I knew that I wanted to do more with our data than we were able to do with PracticeWorks. For example, with PracticeWorks, I had to manually track the number of hours we spent seeing patients on a given day -- there was no way to access this from PracticeWorks with the tools we had. I think it's absurd that some companies won't let you have full access to the dataset that is yours. Open Dental not only gives users full access to their data, but also provides documentation of their database schema that's readily available online.
Documentation of the database is huge, especially if you're a software developer. When I was creating Divergent Dental, it let me know exactly what fields were available, and precisely what each field meant.
Some people ask me questions about whether or not it's possible to generate a report that calculates a certain metric, and my default response is "YES". As long as the necessary fields exist in the database, you can build any report you want.
When we converted over from PracticeWorks to Open Dental, at the time, we were working with a practice management group, who used another software system to generate their reports. When we had a call with them, we realized that they were reporting data to us that was just wrong. We realized that they weren't factoring in PPO write-offs, and so their production numbers were off by 25-30%. Since Open Dental exposed this information, we could prove to the practice management group that their numbers were wrong.
How technical do you need to be in order to make use of the data that Open Dental exposes?
It depends on what you want to do. There are almost 1,200 example queries available on Open Dental's website. This provides a good starting point, and they also have about 25 built-in reports, where you don't have to write any SQL at all. A lot of practices are using these, but maybe not as much as they could.
For me, especially when creating Divergent Dental, there was a lot I wanted to do, so I had to learn SQL in order to do what I wanted. To learn SQL, you have to be a little technical -- you don't need to have a computer science degree, but you have to be willing to learn a new skill, which just takes a bit of time. There are also plenty of examples and tutorials online.
But if users don't want to take the time to learn SQL, then they could also hire someone like Divergent Dental to do this for them.
Do you think that most users are leveraging this data as much as they should?
I don't think it's healthy to leverage ALL of the data that Open Dental exposes -- only so much of it is relevant to users on a daily basis. There's actually a risk of information overload. But from a real practical standpoint, I think a lot of people are underutilizing the data, which is one of the reasons I created Divergent Dental.
Open Dental is typically hosted locally, though it can be configured for the cloud. Do you think it's important that your practice management software be on the cloud?
We don't use Open Dental on the cloud, and I don't think it's important for us to do so right now. When I speak with people from other practices, and they tell me that they want their software to be on the cloud, I always ask "why?" Many people just ask for this because it's a buzzword -- what they really want is to be able to easily access their data from home. But this can be accomplished with remote access software, like LogMeIn or TeamViewer. So I don't think this is a strong justification for restricting yourself to cloud-based software.
The other common response I hear is that they don't want to have to back up their data. I think that this is a more valid response. But I have some concerns that if you don't have a backup that you control, then from a business perspective, if the cloud vendor goes out of business, then you won't have access to the data. I don't really think that this is an issue with the major cloud vendors, but you have to be comfortable that it's a possibility.
I would also wonder how things like 3D imaging would work over the cloud, since the files are huge -- maybe 400MB each. So it seems like it might be difficult to transmit that data, and again if the cloud software vendor went out of business, I'm not sure how we'd get that data back. We have about a terabyte’s worth of 3D images, so it wouldn't be easy to transfer that data back to us.
The cloud does provide some other benefits, like automatic software upgrades. But this isn't so much of an issue for us with Open Dental, since upgrades are pretty easy -- we have Open Dental installed on 18 machines, and it takes us about a minute to upgrade a machine, so I spend about 20 minutes each time I want to upgrade. With PracticeWorks though, it'd take us hours to do and we'd run into issues sometimes. We haven't had any issues with upgrading Open Dental.
Is there any reason you wouldn't recommend Open Dental to someone?
I have a friend in Florida whose wife is a pediatric dentist and he's the manager of the practice. He's customized his Eaglesoft galore, with different automations and integrations that he's built specifically for their practice. He could recreate it in Open Dental, but I don't see a reason to do it for him. If you have a high-level, decked-out automated process, you don't need to convert.
Another reason to not convert would be if you use an X-ray system that doesn't have a bridge with Open Dental. But there are a lot of bridges, so this would probably only happen if you’re using a really old X-ray system.
Do you have any advice for our readers who are deciding between Open Dental and other practice management systems?
A lot of people who are already using practice management software are hesitant in general about switching to another system, because they're afraid of losing data in their conversions. We didn't have any issues with our conversion, and I know a lot of other people who did their conversions without any issues.
People are also afraid of having to learn a new system, especially after they've become familiar with their current system. But Open Dental is really easy to learn. A lot of people are using Dentrix G4 and are thinking of upgrading to G6, which is essentially like learning a new system. For people in this situation, I definitely think it makes sense to try the Open Dental data conversion for free, and evaluate if it makes sense to convert to Open Dental instead of upgrading to Dentrix G6.
Reliability and speed of use -- this is what distinguishes systems from each other. Some people on Dentaltown have asked me, "If Open Dental were the same price as the other systems, would you still use it?" Any my answer is always that if Open Dental raised their prices to match the other systems, I would still use it -- it's not just because of the lower price tag.
About Open Dental
For roughly $100/month, Open Dental offers many of the time-saving and paperless features that users typically look for in dental practice management software: insurance claim validation, business-critical reports, powerful scheduling and charting capabilities, and much more. However, one feature that distinguishes Open Dental from other players in the industry is that it gives users full access to their practice's database, which enables users to create powerful custom reports and queries. Open Dental does minimal advertising, but has gained popularity throughout the dental community just from word of mouth.
To learn more about Open Dental, you can read our in-depth review here.
You can also visit Open Dental's site here.