Converting Management Software: A Consultant’s Prescription

As with all prescriptions, this one comes with a disclaimer: The client should be aware that the prescription in this article is not intended to address specific software conversion experience and side effects. There are no known deaths or hospitalizations that have been seen with computer system conversions but lost jobs are possible. Having worked firsthand with most of the various orthodontic software systems, the conversion snafu stories are endless. Many hours on the phone and lost data may lead to hair loss (not directly caused by the software, but it tends to happen when you pull your hair out). Please read this article to help gain realistic expectations so that as the glitches happen you can better deal with them, and keep this hope alive. Almost all who convert will, in time, love their new system.

First, be clear in your direction and introduce a little humor. Throw your hands up! You will. Your office manager will. Someone will, at some point, throw his or her hands in the air and declare that software conversion is for the birds. It’s not. There can be significant reasons for upgrading your software and these things need to be clearly outlined for the team to embrace in order to weather the inevitable frustrations for the future good of the practice. Learning new management software can be a daunting task. There are good things to say about most orthodontic software programs and yet there is no system that could not benefit from what another has as its strengths. So, choose wisely and call your consultant to discuss the pros and cons of each system and if it is time to go to the Cloud.

Second, set realistic expectations. Your team, and probably you, too, will spend a lot of time on the phone. Once you make the switch and your team is learning the new software, you’re going to become good friends with the software’s support team. Be sure to treat your new support partners with respect, recognizing that you need them. Remember that more than half the times you call to fault them it is really your own operator error. Some software companies keep statistics on the average wait time when you call, how many times your practice calls and how long your team member was on the phone. They also may offer a call back option so you’re not stuck on hold. Find out which companies pride themselves on quickly getting to your call and getting you the answers you need. The software can be A+, but if the support is C- you may want to go with a less frustrating support option.

Third, consider extra costs and get great upfront training. Free phone support becomes costly with the hours the team needs to learn the new software after the trainer leaves the office. Time is quite literally money when precious hours each week are spent with computer down time or when data did not convert properly. It takes minutes here and minutes there to try to remember what buttons to push and where to find things in a new system. On average, I estimate that the cost of the transition is a minimum of 24 hours of pay per team member before things are humming, and if you hit a snafu or glitch you may triple that number. 

Don’t decide to spend big dollars on new software without investing in great training for your team up front. If you skimp, you will pay for it in the long run. For that matter, ask the software company to refer their very best trainer and be willing to wait longer to get them or pay extra if you must. Most importantly, the doctor needs to not only be actively involved in the training sessions, but also take steps to ensure that the training time stays on course.  Avoid distractions by having a written outline in advance from the trainer as to what needs to be learned each and every hour.

Fourth, recognize that not all your current software’s data will be converted to the new software. In every conversion I’ve been witness to, there is some data that doesn’t get transferred. Each software is built differently. They don’t necessarily “speak” to each other, and therefore the transfer of data is not always complete. Try to get as straightforward an answer as you can as to what data may be missing from your system, but a complete response may be hard to get. There will be some unknowns, but the better you can prepare the team for what is coming, the less stress and disappointments will occur. Remember, your team may need to add work hours before, during and after the conversion to get everything properly set up. Don’t skimp on setting aside the right amount of time chunks, on the right dates, to make this experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible. After all, the goal is that when you open up the computer to go live the first day the conversion was done well and the practice is back up as seamlessly as possible with very little missing data.

Fifth, evaluate if your team is strong enough for the task. There are times when a practice may have no choice in the timing as to when to convert, but in some cases it may be prudent to delay a conversion until you have enough team strength in the practice to get the job done well. The last thing a practice needs is to lose a key Coordinator because too much of the burden of the conversion falls on one person’s shoulders. If you are the Office Manager, there is no doubt that the buck will stop with you, but don’t convert if the team is not solid.

Be sure your key personnel are excited about the transition, and on board with the project. I’ve seen practices make this change with newly hired team members on board and rarely do things go smoothly. The problem is that it makes things doubly tough on the new member to learn when the one training her is trying to learn it herself. The new staff training on regular clinical or office procedures gets pushed aside for the immediate fires that must be put out as you try to make the new computer system run smoothly. Everyone ends up frustrated, because you can’t find time to both learn and train properly.

Sixth, clarify individual responsibilities.  Make each team member responsible for very specific tasks. Once the plans are set it is vital that each person knows what part they are to play in the conversion as it is individual responsibility and accountability that gets things done. Find out exactly what is required of you and your team from your new software company and delegate responsibilities appropriately.

Seventh, are you ready for the Cloud?   I would be remiss to not make some comments on cloud-based software. If you are in one location then probably you may not yet have need of it, but if you are in multiple locations, the Cloud is an excellent option for you. The ease of accessing data for multiple locations makes cloud-based software a great choice if you select a system that has been well developed with a proven track record, and your locations have dependable access to the Cloud.

There are two main downsides to the cloud-based software. The first is, simply, what happens when the internet goes down. You try to hotspot your cell phone, and if that won’t work, you go back to the days of pen and paper. Some offices have redundant internet access, but long outages, though rare in metropolitan areas, still happen. When access is restored, everyone stays late and inputs the written data and must call patients to make their next appointment. Obviously, you can’t go to the Cloud without 99.9% reliable Internet service.

            The second downside with cloud-based software as compared to server-based software is the expense. It’s not easy to compare the costs as one should include any local network support savings that can come from a cloud-based system. It’s important to understand that for each user license there is often a separate monthly fee, as opposed to the multi-user fees charged on many of the server-based systems. A very common complaint we receive from team members in our surveys is “we need to add more user licenses.” Some practices have five licenses with eight computer stations so they are running around closing out windows to be able to be in at another spot. This issue can happen with server-based systems as well, but I find it to be a much more common complaint among the cloud-based versions.

Lastly, which probably should have been first: Why not keep what you have if it works for you? A strong consideration should be made for keeping what you have if, at the end of the day, your software works. Both systems will get you from point A to point B, so don’t upgrade without looking at all the steps in this prescription.  It’s true that in most cases the User comes to accept and appreciate their new system, but maybe that is because we tend to forget all the work it took to convert. It’s not often that I find the advantages of a new software strong enough to overcome the expense and obstacles of the conversion to a new software, again, assuming you are already in a solid system.

Most practices that I visit greatly under-utilize their software and do not take full advantage of the benefits their system offers. One of my main areas of expertise is in developing the Orthodontic Doctor Time Scheduling system. Rarely is a practice using even half of its computer capabilities for scheduling ideal day templates, with many offices still unaware of how to use: the “search schedule” functions; link procedures to classes; develop appointment chains so that when you schedule one appointment, it automatically prompts you to schedule the next. I prefer a system with solid financials, scheduling, treatment charts, and letter system, instead of a great set of new bells and whistles.

As with all prescriptions, this one is not a panacea. The strategy for an individual practice undergoing a software conversion must be tailored to that practice’s needs. So, after counting the costs, set your direction with realistic expectations, prepare your team and go for it!  Be sure to boost goodwill for your hard-working team with extra rewards, and keep the hope and humor alive so you can achieve a smooth and successful software conversion.