When looking for an IT firm for your dental practice, you have much to consider. You need a firm that can help you manage your front-end and back-end operations, keep your data and IT assets secure, help you leverage IT to solve business problems, and charge you transparent and affordable rates.
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When looking for an IT firm for your dental practice, you have much to consider. You need a firm that can help you manage your front-end and back-end operations, keep your data and IT assets secure, help you leverage IT to solve business problems, and charge you transparent and affordable rates. That may seem like a tall order. But by understanding your needs, asking the right questions, and carefully vetting prospective vendors, you can find the right managed services provider (MSP) for your practice’s IT needs.
If you’re an emerging practice, you may be trying to determine who to get your office up and running and manage IT going forward. Or, if you’re like many established dental practices, you may employ one or two IT generalists who handle your IT needs. These may be in-house staff or independent contractors with whom you’ve built a working relationship.
In either case, partnering with a reputable MSP can benefit your practice. To operate smoothly, a dental practice needs an IT environment that can support the following:
While there may be other bells and whistles you’d add to the above, these are the minimum IT components needed to operate a successful emerging practice today. And the larger your practice, the greater the needs you’ll have. Moreover, you need to be able to stay on top of IT as new opportunities are ever-evolving.
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming businesses every day. For example, AI can provide accurate models of treatment areas, allowing you to treat patients more effectively than ever. But just as new opportunities are emerging, so are threats. Businesses of all sizes and industries are under siege by hackers and scammers, seeking your and your patient’s financial information. And while many business owners think they are too small or in an industry too specialized to merit any notice, they’re dead wrong. Indeed, the same technologies that have improved dental treatment can be used to target businesses and organizations indiscriminately.
Finding the right provider can be daunting whether you’re a managing partner in a dental practice or an office manager. Even if you’re somewhat familiar with IT, it’s hard to know what questions to ask. It’s hard not to be intimidated by all the technical jargon you may hear in a sales pitch. And it’s hard to feel knowledgeable enough in a pitch meeting to immediately distinguish a reputable provider from an inexperienced, underqualified one.
Before you meet with any prospective vendor, be prepared to ask the right questions.
First, learn what services a prospective MSP provides and their experience in offering those services. Can they offer some or all of the services listed above? Have they worked in the dental industry before those services? And have they worked with any other practices in your region? Ensuring the vendor’s capabilities and experience align with your needs should be your first order of business. If not, look elsewhere.
Understanding whether a provider can deliver what you need requires you to dive in a bit. Learn what software and hardware platforms they provide and support for other dental clients and which ones they recommend. Ask about the length of their experience in providing dental practices with IT solutions, which may differ from their IT experience. Also, ascertain the depth of their experience with relevant compliance issues. Find out if they have expertise handling IT issues regarding HIPAA, GDPR, PCI, and SOC 2, among other regulatory standards.
Learn about their staffing structure, specifically how many full-time employees they have, their qualifications, and how much they use independent contractors. Their staffing structure may affect the level of support you can expect, so ask how they are organized.
Beyond staffing, you must understand how they will manage and secure the data you entrust to them. Your data, from customer billing information to EMRs, is essential to your practice, and you cannot afford to lose it due to system malfunctions or data breaches. Ask who on their team will have access to your data, how it will be handled, and what measures are in place to protect it. These measures should include backups in case of a natural disaster, technical malfunction, or hacking scheme.
One of the most important areas you should discuss is cybersecurity. Learn what measures the prospective provider has in place to safeguard their network and what they recommend to safeguard on-site assets. But your cybersecurity conversation should be more extensive than network security. How do they address email security and device management? Can they help provide employee training? And will they help you develop comprehensive cybersecurity plans? The cost of a data breach could sink your practice, so you must ensure that any prospective MSP not only uses best-in-class security measures but will work with you to safeguard every aspect of your practice.
However, suppose the vendor has experience in your industry and region providing the needed services. In this case, you should investigate whether they may fit your organization well. Partially, fit hinges on your organizational structure. Do you need a provider to handle your IT needs from top to bottom? If so, you need a provider who offers what’s known as managed IT.
Say you need a provider to help your in-house generalist(s) integrate and manage multiple systems. And while you desperately need control and support managing time-consuming IT functions, you’re not entirely comfortable handing over the reins completely to an outside vendor. In this case, you may need co-managed IT services. Or, depending on your situation, you may need specific services ordered a la carte.
But understanding how a provider will operate within your organizational dynamics is only a piece of determining their fit. Ideally, you’ll build a long-term relationship with an MSP, so you should understand how they’ll support you. Ask them what their discovery process and communication styles are like. How will they get to know your practice, people, needs, and vision? Will they only communicate when there’s a crisis? Or will they reach out when they’ve found something that may help your business? You must also know their support hours and the support shape after traditional operating hours.
Now, some of this will be codified in your service-level agreement. And it’s essential to see a sample and ask questions about different service tiers. But it’s just as important to learn how an MSP sees itself about its clients. Do they see themselves as a responsive provider that works best when they have a clear set of IT requests from you? Or do they see themselves as a proactive and collaborative partner that will help you think through current and future needs? Chances are that you’ll prefer the latter if you’re busy running your practice. But you should understand both your preferences and the provider’s capabilities in this regard.
It’s also crucial to ask about their pricing structure. Understand what pricing options the provider offers, as well as what fees are fixed and which are variable. Not investigating prices early on can lead to some unpleasant surprises later. And if they’re not transparent about their pricing plans up front, that’s a red flag you should not ignore.
You don’t need an IT expert to pick the right MSP. Nor do you need to ask all the right questions in an initial meeting. Ask each prospective provider for client references and call them. If none of the references are other dental practices, follow up with the clients whose businesses most closely resemble your business practice. Ask them how satisfied they are with the provider regarding support, service options, communication, and pricing. And ask them what they think the provider’s weaknesses are as well.
Of course, client references are cherry-picked by the provider. Read online reviews to get the most complete picture of the provider possible. Check with local consumer affairs organizations to review any formal complaints that may have been filed against the provider. Doing so may take time, but this level of due diligence can help you avoid making a costly mistake by picking the wrong provider.
Finally, compare the pricing plans of each provider you’ve interviewed. Doing this can help you determine if a provider charges a significant premium to the market rate. That can help narrow your list of prospective vendors and give you a sense of how much services should cost if you’re still deciding which ones you’ll need.
Keeping these considerations in mind can help you find the right MSP. And the right MSP will not only help you manage your basic IT needs but help you grow your business as well.