4 ways cloud computing will change dentistry for the better

Jan. 11, 2012
Surgical-Restorative Resource co-editor Dr. Chris Salierno deciphers cloud computing and explains how it will make the dentist’s life a lot easier in the days to come.
By Chris Salierno, DDSThe cloud. Cloud computing. Every tech journal is talking about “the cloud” like it’s the greatest invention since the Internet. The concept has already caught fire in dentistry, and it appears that it may change how we practice forever.So what is the cloud?Cloud computing is a movement to place more programs, data, and applications online instead of on your office computers. Thus all of these things can be accessed more easily from all kinds of devices, such as your phone or iPad, with ease.The idea of storing information online isn’t a new one. Have you ever noticed that instead of storing a file on a flash drive, which can get lost or left at home, you can just email the file to someone (or yourself)? Now that the file is stored on your email account, you can access it from any device that has access to the Internet. That file lives in the cloud. Google has taken this a step further with Google Documents, a specific web-based application that stores documents online via your Gmail account. Gmail is an early example of cloud computing.In the next decade or so, cloud computing may make the dentist’s life a lot easier. Here’s what you can to look forward to ...You’re on vacation in Napa Valley enjoying a nice Cabernet Sauvignon. You get a call on your cell phone from Dr. Perio about Mrs. Jones. You had sent Mrs. Jones to Dr. Perio to evaluate edentulous site No. 29; the site might need ridge augmentation before an implant can be placed. She just got her scan in his office so the image pops up on your phone for you to check out. As you zoom in and rotate around the edentulous site, Dr. Perio tells you what you’ve just discovered: Mrs. Jones will not need ridge augmentation. An angled abutment is all that will be required to restore No. 29.

On the side of phone display is your Common Conference List with the names of people you and Dr. Perio typically speak with together. Right below Dr. Ortho, Dr. Endo, and your office manager, you see Mr. Lab and touch his name. He answers, and the three of you discuss the case. Mr. Lab instantly has access to the scan and can begin work on the surgical guide. As the call ends, you touch the button for your office manager and tell her to write up a treatment plan for an angled abutment, crown, and surgical guide, then appoint her for a consultation visit. Only a five-minute phone call and the patient’s case was managed surgically, prosthetically, and financially. Now it’s time to get back to your vacation. That glass of Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t going to drink itself ...
Let’s review some of the perks promised by cloud computing:1. Interact with your practice management software from anywherePrograms like Dentrix already have the capability for you to access your schedule and patient data from your mobile device. This will become the norm. No more wondering what your schedule is like next week. No more trying to remember the treatment details of the patient who just called your emergency line. Your practice management software will exist on a personal cloud for your dental office. Fully compliant with HIPAA, this cloud will only be accessible by the appropriate people. 2. Clear case communication with your teamImagine having the ability to view case information such as radiographs, clinical photographs, and 3-D study models on any device. Now imagine being able to view this material while holding a conference call with all the necessary players.3. Fewer hardware and software glitchesIf your network has ever crashed, you know how debilitating it can be for your practice. Cloud computing removes the need for your computers to communicate with each other on a hard-wired network. Instead, each device simply has to connect to the Internet to be able to seamlessly share information with one another. Web-based software will also be updated more easily. No more being pestered with the time and expense of downloading new versions of your practice management package. Think about it: thousands of practices using the same software combined with the ability to be quickly updated. It’s like hitting the fast forward button on software evolution. Improvements can be implemented as rapidly as they are conceived.4. Brainless back-up of dataNo need to fuss with remote servers or tapes that you’re supposed to bring home. Since your data is stored online, ipso facto it is also being safely stored off the office premises. And if you decide to cancel your cloud-based experience, you will be able to download all of your patient data to a more traditional practice management program.
So what’s the downside?Rather than a one-time purchase of thousands of dollars, cloud computing software is available as a monthly subscription for a few hundred dollars. That price structure may be uncomfortable for some practices in the long term.When will all of this be a reality? Cloud-based dental practice management systems including Curve Hero (Curve Dental) and Denticon (Planet DDS) are already converting offices to the digital dogma. We can expect to see accelerated growth and increased compatibility of our hardware and software as dentists trust more of their information to the cloud.Author bioChris Salierno, DDS, is a general dentist practicing in Melville, N.Y., and co-editor of Surgical-Restorative Resource e-newsletter. He lectures and writes about practice management and clinical dentistry. Additional content is available on his blog for dentists: www.thecuriousdentist.com. You may contact Dr. Salierno by email at [email protected].