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Thursday, 29 August 2013 10:27

Automated Updates to Your Dental Software Featured

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post 58 picDon’t you just love to update your dental software?  You put in that CD provided by your vendor.  It whirs and clicks. 

Messages appear on the screen that say often indecipherable things but give you the impression of progress… you hope. 

Then when it is finished you launch the program and hold your breath, hoping something familiar comes up.  

No, you don’t love it.  You dread the interruption it causes and the risk it introduces. 


In a recent article in Dental Economics Dr. Mark Hyman was quoted as saying:

“…upgrades were major events at my practice.  We had to plan for upgrades.  It usually involved the assistance of my IT vendor.  If it went well we were able to limp along until all the bugs had been worked out.  If it went bad, we’d lose production.”  

We heard from our clients along the same line:

  •     They didn’t want to schedule time outside of office hours to perform the updates.
  •     The installation process was confusing and too technical.
  •     Staff fears that if something goes wrong, they will be blamed.
  •     Updates get deferred and the update CD will get lost.

The Dental Economics article offered the panacea of cloud-based software.  We have begun to work toward this same solution, but reading the article has prompted me to write this post and say that the cloud is not the only answer for the trepidation of software updates. 

The same “connectedness” that gives you cloud software can also automatically update the programs that reside on your local PC’s and server.  

The latest version of our client/server software provides for the ability to automatically update itself when newer versions are available.  It periodically checks to see if there are any new updates and when one is present; it downloads the update and stores it in a special folder.  At midnight a process will check the folder and automatically update the server and every PC in the practice.  No coming in on your day off or staying late to perform the process.  

As we developed this solution we had to address several issues.  

  •     What if something happens during the update process in the middle of the night?  No one will be there to deal with it.  No problem.  We take a copy of your current software and if there is a problem, we roll back to that copy, so everything is working in the morning when you arrive.
  •     What about the variety of hardware configurations that exist from dental practice to dental practice?  The update process senses this and makes sure each computer gets the necessary changes.  If a computer is turned off, we cannot turn it on in the middle of the night, but we’ll stage the update to run the next time the computer is started, keeping the server, the client PC’s and the database in sync.
  •     How do we manage the distribution of the software?  We wanted to give the dental practice notice of the upcoming updates and allow them to reschedule getting it, if their office circumstances dictated.  Unique management software was written to control this and track the software version everyone is on.
  •     We needed the Internet downloads to be quick and non-disruptive to the practice.  To accomplish this we broke up the software into smaller pieces.  Certain changes may affect only one or two of these pieces so the remainder of the software could remain untouched.

Going into the project to create automatic updates I had the vision that it would work something like my iPhone or my home Mac computer.  I’d be alerted to updates being available and have the option to fetch and install them at my leisure.  As the work progressed we decided to make it even simpler, where the fetch and install took place automatically.

The area that produced the most internal discussion and debate was how and when the client would be notified of the update.  We settled on notifying them a week before it was to occur and then again the day before it was to occur.  This allows the office to contact us to defer the update, if the timing was inconvenient for them.  The notification also documents the changes they would see in the updated software.

Healthcare is presently a very dynamic industry.  New HIPAA requirements, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act along with government and industry intervention at all levels present a constantly changing environment.  Your software must change to keep up with this activity. 

Having a system and vendor that can adjust to these changes with minimal impact to your workflow is a right click.


Read 1583 times Last modified on Thursday, 29 August 2013 11:33
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