Computer Shopping 101

People have a lot of different attitudes towards computers: love ‘em, hate ‘em, tolerate ‘em, curious about ‘em, could care less about ‘em, break ‘em, use ‘em, kill ‘em, and so on.

I personally hated ’em, while my husband Bob, our main consultant at AMI, is a computer guru who had worked years ago at IBM and then for Pepsi Canada as their Systems Manager.  He helped me gain a working knowledge and a healthy respect for the power of computers in a business or practice.

Do you need one?

This is not a black and white question. You can get by without one but you will never reach peak efficiency without one. It’s not actually a question of, “should I have a computer?” but rather,  “when should I get one and which one is right for my practice?”

What can a computer do for you?

There are many different software programs available on the market for denturists. Some do only accounting, or only scheduling; some do both but don’t coordinate the information. Not all programs are equal so I thought I would sketch out what you might look for when deciding which software to buy.

Ideally, the software would include several different programs all talking to each other and sharing information about the running of your practice. This is called an “integrated” system.

Here’s how it should go:

  1. You would start by entering a new patient and their information into a master file — this could include name, address, phone numbers, insurance details, specific info on the patient, etc.
  2. You would then be able to go into your scheduler in the computer and set up a first appointment for that patient.
  3. When the patient arrives at your practice and has been presented with the treatment plan, the next (or all) of their follow-up appointments can be scheduled.
  4. Often at that first appointment, the Denturist has the patient make a deposit by cash or cheque toward the work to be done. You would now enter this information into your payment program (Accounts Receivable). This allows you to print a receipt for the patient, keep a record of this information, and know at the end of each day exactly how much money you collected. Ideally, your system would print out this data for your bank deposit.
  5. The payment program would also take the patient’s deposit information and enter it into your General Ledger program, which is your set of books with all income and expense categories.
  6. Paying your bills will similarly be easier with your Accounts Payable program because you enter the name of the supplier or creditor and the details of the payment you are making and it can even print the cheque off for you. This information will also be sent over to your General Ledger in the computer. Thus you can produce monthly and yearly Income and Expense Reports with the push of a button.
  7. With all of this data being stored in your computer, you can now produce a variety of reports, e.g. lists of who owes you, who you owe, and upcoming appointments, make labels for mailings to all your patients, create production reports, and so on.
  8. Another ideal feature of a computer system would be the capability for transferring information through the phone system to insurance companies. This allows for the determination of patient treatment coverage and payment from the insurance company to you on a much faster basis. This is called EDI (Electronic Data Interface).
  9. If you have a large practice or are planning one, you would want to consider having multiple computers in the office that are linked together to share all the information. This would prevent various people having to bother the receptionist or kick her off the computer at the front desk while data is entered or retrieved. These are some of the possibilities with more available at present and even more things being added all the time. The capabilities of computers are advancing every day and new software is becoming available all the time.

Do you need all those features?

Not all software programs include all these features and functions, and some do include them all but they are not integrated (don’t talk to each other to share the information). What that means is that you would have to spend more time transferring information from one place to another in your computer, thus opening up the possibility of errors (e.g. mis-entering numbers, misspelling names, etc.). For this reason alone you might consider it worth paying more for a fully integrated system and thus be more efficient with your time (or your receptionist’s) and therefore it would be more cost effective in the long run.

Training included?

Your chosen computer system should come with thorough, simple, easy to use documentation (instructions) and with training, whether at your office or at theirs. Be sure that YOU get trained, in addition to any staff from your practice. The computer will not be useful to YOU if you don’t know how to use it.

Support and updates?

Your software should come with on-going support (problem solving) either in person or on the phone. You usually have to pay for this on-going service. Some companies provide large amounts of phone support, while others may be difficult to reach. Check references (at least five existing customers) who have this system and ask questions.

Also included should be updates which are the latest versions of your software as improvements are being made and bugs worked out by the company you bought it from.

Shop around

With all of the above information in mind, now you should check out the major companies – there are about six or so main suppliers of computer software for denturist practices. In this issue of Denturism Canada there will be a lot of them advertising and some articles by them as well.  Read everything to get as much knowledge and as many perspectives as possible. There are so many different types of programs that do all kinds of different things, and your first mission is to get an idea what these are. Then you can start deciding what YOU need for YOUR practice.

Ask questions

Do not try to impress a computer salesman with what you know about computers. Instead, ask questions and get them to explain. If they can’t explain it, what kind of ongoing support are you going to get — don’t forget, they are company representatives. Don’t allow yourself to be bamboozled or romanced into buying something you don’t understand. You want a live demonstration that makes it real to you how the running of your office can be done with the proposed system to see if it suits YOU.

Hardware and software

Should you buy them both from the same supplier or should you buy them from separate places? First pick out the software or decide what all you want your computer to do. If you want to buy software that is already designed specifically for Denturist practices, then you might be well advised to buy the hardware that is specially put together to work with that software. If you only want accounting software (i.e. Simply Accounting, Quick Books, etc. which you might buy at a Business Depot or Staples store), just read the packaging box for the computer requirements.

When should you computerize?

Truthfully, as soon as you can. However, there are so many influencing criteria it is not easy to give a cut and dried answer. One of the determining factors is the ability to afford it. But consider this, if you have a receptionist and if you have a bookkeeper as well, a computer would save you the salary for a bookkeeper because your receptionist could enter all the information and the computer will do the bookkeeping. A computerized set of books may also reduce your accounting fees.

A computer efficiently organizes information so that you can track your business better and make more educated business decisions based on an accurate set of numbers. Bottom line – When do you want to start making better financial and management decisions?

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to The Art of Management Inc. and a clickable link back to this page.

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