Choosing software programs

July 1, 2004
Did you know there's a software program for just about anything? I discovered one called "HappyOMeter," which measures a person's happy moods throughout the day.

by Victoria DaCosta

Did you know there's a software program for just about anything? I discovered one called "HappyOMeter," which measures a person's happy moods throughout the day. But I'm not so sure I would install this software program on my operatory desktop computer!

So what programs would I install on my desktop computer inside my digital operatory?

In a recent RDH article, I discussed how to select computer hardware for your operatory. I said that once you build the house (choose the hardware), knowing how to decorate it is just as important as the house. Learning about different software programs has become essential to our jobs. The health-care industry is rapidly becoming paperless. We will eventually use computer software programs just as we do TV remote controls or cell phones.

So, where do you begin to choose the right software programs for your computerized, digital dental hygiene day? I recommend first asking yourself, "What do I need to do my work properly?" Second, I encourage you to ask about the "user friendliness" of the software. By now, your doctor has been exposed to several different software company advertisements about dental management software. Many doctors are sensitive to price and choose the least expensive software program for their office. The problem with this is that the needs of the dental hygienist are often not met with this software. What I often hear from dental hygienists at trade shows is, "My doctor bought Brand X software; we don't have anything that Brand X software applies to, so we don't use it."

There are two main reasons dental hygienists do not use the software program their doctors buy. The most obvious is that they do not have a computer inside their operatory. Second, they were not properly trained to use the software program features in their operatory.

Overall, a software program is a tool to get you from point A to point B in a more organized, time efficient, and productive way. Offices that become completely paperless will definitely require a dental hygienist who can not only use a software program bought for the office, but who can be productive with it as well.

When your doctor begins to research for a new office management software system, I suggest you get involved ASAP! You will enjoy attending trade shows and seeing what's new for dental offices. Keep in mind two simple questions: "What are my needs?" and "How simple is it to use?" Jump in and click away to learn the ease of each software program's navigation. Ask the software representative many questions. Visit as many software booths at trade shows as possible. And, last but not least, try to have very open discussions with your doctor about the pros and cons of your discoveries!


• Navigation — How quickly can you intuitively click the mouse to different window screens and return to where you were? Look for a software program that offers ease of use and requires very little training.

• Software platforms — By now, you know there are PC computers and Mac computers. Each platform has it own software. You cannot use a PC software program on a Mac computer. If your doctor uses Mac computers, chances are your software choices will be limited. But don't despair. There are dental programs out there for you; just keep looking!

• Software programs — I strongly advise having your doctor install some sort of "office software" package on your desktop computer. Almost all dental management programs sold to dentists advise investing in the "office" software package. This includes Microsoft Word, Excel, and Power Point.

• Technical support — Out of all of the features offered with a software program, technical support is by far the most important. Without instant help when you have a problem, you will be very frustrated and lose valuable production time!

• Training — Training is another crucial research point. This is where the dental hygiene department is often overlooked. Due to the tasks involved and the cost to manage the front office, much attention is given to this area of spending. As an astute student of software program research, I recommend finding out which features offered by the software program you will use, and encourage your doctor to budget for proper training for your usage. You may find that some of these features increase your daily production, and thus increase your value to the dental practice.

• Upgraded versions — Every software company wants to upgrade their software. This means that new software features are developed every one to two years. This may happen as a result of requests from users. Much like requests for certain types of products and services in the service industry, software companies are very competitive and want to keep customers happy. Therefore, new versions are developed to keep up with customer demands.


• Receiving up-to-date information with the latest technology. Receiving upgraded versions introduces you to new features.
• Organization of note taking, data collection, and task functions. Easy to retrieve and access patient data.
• Legal record keeping. Efficient recording of data.
• Your choice of software increases usage in your operatory. Increases hygiene department production. Can use your training on the software program in other dental offices if necessary.


• The doctor does not purchase upgraded versions of the software program.
• Doctor or untrained person installs the software program, which causes glitches and down time.
• Poor training or very limited training offered on site by the software company.
• Poor communication with your doctor leads to a poor choice of software.

Hy-Tech user tips ...
for software selection

• Make a list of your needs.
• Have a trained rep install the software systems.
• Learn what kind of training is involved to use the purchased software.
• Read testimonials of users.
• Have phone conversations with users of the software you are considering.
• Ask software representatives to visit your office for a demonstration.

Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 18 years, DaCosta is a speaker, author, consultant, and an expert in the design of medical/dental software. She is also on the new technologies committee for the California Dental Hygienists' Association. DaCosta can be contacted at