By Danny Chan
Just think, what if you’re able to check the next day’s scheduled appointments or call up patient records at any given time of day, wherever you may be. It’s like having a practice manager on 24-hour standby, seven days a week. Wouldn’t that be great?
While it does not take a tech-savvy dentist to recognise the inherent benefits of being able to remotely access the clinic’s PC using a cellular phone, it does however take one to fully appreciate the exacting demands of a dental practice and having the skills to develop a software system to meet those needs.
Rarely have the worlds of IT and dentistry combined so seamlessly as in the example of Dr Frank Papadopoulos. The name may not ring a bell, but chances are, you would have heard of Dental 4 Windows (D4W), otherwise known as Australia’s most popular practice management software (based on ADA 2008 survey), that was initially designed by the Sydney dentist.
Marketed by Centaur Software Development Co., Dental 4 Windows was the first Australian practice management system released for Windows 3.1 in 1994. It became the world’s first Client/Server with SQL database engine practice management system in 1997; and was also the first software of its kind to be available for Windows Server 2003.
The Need for D4W
The string of pioneering credits belies the modest birth of the software, which began in earnest when Frank was searching for an IT-based system that could ease his own practice management workload. Rather than ambition, Frank’s brainchild had occurred out of sheer necessity.
As he looked for available options in adopting a paperless system for his own practice in the late 80s, the IT enthusiast was disappointed with the management software systems in the Australian marketplace.
“I found that there were only a few packages available but none of them had the workflow and thought process of how a dentist works.”
Frank noted that the products were mostly “accounting-driven”, with little attention given to dental practice-specific functions like appointment scheduling, recall/ reporting and treatment planning.
“This initiated my quest to design an IT system that works the way I was taught to work both clinically and practically.”
In 1992, Frank partnered IT professionals Michael Sokol and Dr. Yuri Tsimbler to develop Dental 4 Windows SQL and established the Sydney-based Centaur Software.
Today, more than 1400 dental practices in Australia, New Zealand and around the world use the company’s software. The customer base is almost split in the middle between single practitioners using single user systems and group practices using multi-user versions. Some user networks number in the hundreds with site installations spread over 35 locations. In terms of market share, Dental 4 Windows is Australia’s leading dental practice management software with 26%.
Simple but powerful
Touted as “the first software designed by dentists for their own use”, D4W utilizes advanced technological tools to eliminate excessive keystrokes and multiple pop-up changes to facilitate ease-of-use; and which also enables operators to access information speedily. The simplified design incorporates six main modules into the main screen – each module is itself part of a larger integrated “work-flow area”. The advantage of such a design is that it allows viewing of all relevant patient details at one glance. This means that the front desk staff is unencumbered by irritating pop-up screens and faster processing of patient information, thus saving time and improving efficiency.
Frank elaborates: “The design of D4W lends itself to an easier learning path compared to other powerful systems. Our training department employs 15 full-time and part-time staff. Ms Sina Burgo, our training manager, has 19 years of experience in the dental practice management field – 16 of which were spent with Centaur. She has trained thousands in the use of D4W.
“Depending on the level required, training is most effective when conducted at the customer site. Training averages between 8-16 hours and is spread over a number of smaller sessions. In terms of level of training, our surveys show an overall 97% customer satisfaction.”
Apart from intuitive designs, the system is based on the principles of a robust and powerful central database that offers a unique and dynamic solution that can grow with the needs of your clinic into full practice integration. Quality control is administered via leading technology tools (such as Unified Process and SQA Team Testing from Rational Inc) to monitor, inspect and keep quality in check throughout the entire software development process.
When a technical problem arises – or in the unlikely event of a system failure – Centaur operates a telephone help desk support centre with a team of 10 full-time trained and experienced support officers. Technical support is available 12 hours per workday and emergency assistance on Saturdays. Customers can choose between phone support and a unique service available via the Internet. For the latter, a trained support staff can remotely “take over” your pc’s mouse and keyboard (with your permission) to either resolve the issue on your behalf or show you how to do it. For its efforts, Centaur’s support team has won the Australian Achiever Software Help Desk Award three years in a row and was runner-up once.
“Our support staff are regularly undergoing continuing education and updating their knowledge on D4W and IT systems. Support performance is monitored using the Professional Help Desk software ensuring that issues are being resolved as efficiently as possible to a high standard.”
New version incorporates customer feedbackAbout a month ago, version 11 of Dental 4 Windows SQL was released to a receptive industry. Besides improvements in the areas of appointment booking, treatment reporting, SMS recall and reporting, the latest version features two new modules in ‘Media Suite’ and ‘Document Manager’.
‘Media Suite’ is an integrated open platform module that affords users the ability to manage digital images including panoramic radiological digital imagery, stills, videos and images from the intraoral camera. An image tool set allows quick capturing, viewing and cataloguing of images, with processing tools to analyse and enhance them.
‘Document Manager’ uses the “directory tree style” interface similar to Windows Explorer, to give users a familiar, single screen platform from which they are able to sort and manage all patient-specific files.
As a next-generation software, D4W’s Appointment Book can be linked to Microsoft’s Outlook calendar, which interacts with most software found in newer models of Mobile Smart devices. This allows remote access connection to the clinic’s PC via your favourite mobile device. Frank enthuses:
“More advanced remote control techniques exist with the advent of affordable mobile internet plans on mobile phones. From smart mobile phones like Nokia’s N95 and N97, I can remotely access my clinic’s PC – which runs on D4W – zoom in to see appointments, clinical notes and reports. It’s just like being in front of my PC at work. It promises amazing freedom and peace of mind.”
Not willing to claim all the credit, Frank attributes many of the enhancements and improved functionality to customer feedback.
“In the last 16 years spent in the dental software business, we have been listening to our customers. They are the ones who come up with great ideas like how we can streamline certain functions and make them simpler to use.”
He insists that the key to Centaur’s success lies in the constant upgrading of knowledge in the areas of practice management, clinical dentistry and dental auxiliary, through contributions by the company’s staff in these respective fields of expertise.
“Fortunately, today’s dentists and support staff see D4W as a very familiar way to work and consider it to be logical in terms of workflow and getting their jobs done faster.
“That is the biggest benefit – combining fast learning, familiar workflow and fast results.”