Remember when you're affable salesperson told you how the company's software was easy to implement, that its implementation teams were the best, and that there would be no disruption in your practice while you installed the new software?
Remember the last time it snowed in July?
Whether you are upgrading your present vendor's software or purchasing a new system, chances are your implementation will not go as smoothly as you would like. And why do these bad implementations occur time and time again? Is it the fault of your software vendor? Yes. Is it your fault? Yes. Truth is, there is no one party to blame, because usually both sides fall short in the implementation game.
But after having provided oversight on numerous implementations of administrative and clinical software over the years, I can tell you with assurance that if you take control of the process, hold the vendor accountable for its work, and commit to addressing your responsibilities during implementation, you can actually be successful, avoid interruption in your practice, and keep your staff happy during this process.
Addressing implementation upfront
Too many times dentists and office managers don't realize that if they address implementation in their software contract, at least they can establish some basic rules that will hold their vendor accountable later on. And this puts the vendor on notice that it needs to meet its commitments.
When I negotiate software contracts, I always make a point of discussing the vendor's commitments and then ensure that these are documented in the contract. The following are some major areas to address:
- When will the project start once the contract is signed?
- Will there be a detailed project plan that lays out an implementation road map?
- Are there penalties if the vendor doesn't meet their project commitments?
- Will there be a commitment to hold regular status and triage meetings?
- Do you have a right to replace the vendor project manager if needed?
You can address additional implementation project-related items in the contract, but these are a good start and worthy of conversation during contract negotiations.
How you can help
Over the years, I've received numerous calls from practices that had endured failed software implementation efforts and wanted to know what I could do to help. I wish that they had asked for assistance before the implementation, but no sense looking back. The first thing I typically do in this situation is to bring the vendor and practice together to discuss the project, what went wrong, and what could have been done better.
When I do this postmortem exercise, many times practices are surprised that it wasn't just the vendor that caused issues, but that a lack of engagement from the practice also caused the implementation to go south. Once the system is purchased, there is a tendency -- especially from clinical staff because of their patient workload -- to pull away a bit from the process. But the implementation and training are where a lot of the heavy lifting begins, and especially in the case of a dental software system that is flexible and customizable, the vendor needs direction from the practice staff during this phase of the project. Absence of this direction and input will give you a system that might not meet your expectations. As a start, the most important thing you can do is assign a person from your practice to be a project manager during the implementation and work closely with your vendor project manager.
How to make your vendor 'walk the walk'
As discussed earlier, salespeople are infamous for "talking the talk" when it comes to assurances of the smooth and seamless implementation their company offers. But unless you hold your software vendor accountable for its role in the implementation, then you can only blame yourself when it doesn't go as planned. Holding vendors accountable and making them "walk the walk" can pay off big time when it comes to successful implementation and training.
The most successful implementations I have been part of were those where I took as much control and oversight of the project as the vendor. Here are the processes and steps I used to make this happen:
Worked with the vendor during project planning for the implementation to ensure that all needs and timelines were being met.
Held regularly scheduled status meetings with the vendor to ensure that things were on track.
Audited vendor service hours and billing for accuracy. To reinforce this point, as an anecdote, I once saved a practice more than $100,000 on a large project by catching errors in the vendor's service charges.
Reported vendor issues on a timely basis instead of letting them linger and grow unmanageable. Also, when there were issues, I demanded a plan and timeframe for resolution.
Escalated issues to vendor higher-level management if necessary.
Finally, something that is not talked about much but is extremely important: Let your vendor know that if it has any issues with you or your staff not doing what is expected during the implementation, it needs to make you aware of this. As you can imagine, vendors are very hesitant to call out their clients, but it is critical that they feel comfortable making you aware of issues coming from the practice side. So let them know it's OK.
As the old saying goes, "It takes two to tango," and this is never more appropriate than when it comes to dental software implementation and training. Issues can arise from both the practice and the vendor during this potentially stressful time, but a timely recognition of these issues and the willingness to work together to resolve them will go a long way to ensuring that your implementation goes smoothly and meets your expectations.
Mike Uretz is a 30-year software veteran and healthcare software and electronic health record expert. He has consulted with hundreds of practices and multiclinic groups to help them properly evaluate and select their software solutions, structure and negotiate contracts, and provide management and oversight for their implementations. He is a member of the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology working group and co-chairman of the Best Practices Advisory Committee for Contracts. He is founder and executive director of www.DentalSoftwareAdvisor.com and founder of the LinkedIn group Dental Software and Electronic Health Records. He can be contacted at MikeU@DentalSoftwareAdvisor.com.