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Increasing IT Reliability Through Cloud Deployment

By George Suda, CIO, Smile Brands

George Suda, CIO, Smile Brands

If you ask most dentists what led them to their career, the likely answers include: the satisfaction of providing care to those in need; new advances in dentistry; or even, more candidly, that it’s a well-paying job. What you’re not likely to hear is “I love the challenges of managing IT.”

Increasingly, the dental field is being driven by technology. And that’s where my team steps in. We have about 400 offices across the U.S., and the Smile Brands’ IT department supplies all technical support to those offices including the phones, data, management systems, reporting, financials and clinic support systems like x-rays.

"Migrating to the cloud has helped address the changes in infrastructure, to have the ability to develop our own solutions more quickly and to address the constant need for disaster recovery"

At Smile Brands, we’re big proponents of moving to cloud-based technology. We’ve already migrated about 75 percent of our mission-critical apps to the cloud in two years. The result has been faster implementation of innovative solutions, the ability to upgrade quicker than we would be able to in a typical, capitalized environment, and the ability to right-size the environment to fit our needs and significant cost savings across the organization.

A Growing Movement to Cloud-based Solutions

There are a lot of moving parts to operating a successful dental practice and technology plays a central role here. Whether it’s warehousing and protecting patient files, accessing digital assets such as scans and x-rays, or providing patients with easy and convenient ways to book appointments – it can be a lot to manage.

It can also be a huge strain on a network. Not to mention a disruptive experience if any of these systems are compromised. For these reasons, it makes sense for the dental industry to consider moving systems to the cloud.

Smile Brand’s Path to the Cloud

About two-and-a-half-years-ago, we started moving several mission-critical apps to the cloud. As an organization that’s committed to continuous innovation, it just made sense. For every project, we start by asking ourselves:

• Can we do this better?

• Will this allow us to provide a great experience for our dental practices and the customers they serve?

• Will this help increase revenue or reduce costs?

Migrating to the cloud has helped address the changes in infrastructure, to have the ability to develop our own solutions more quickly and to address the constant need for disaster recovery. In addition, it allows us to take advantage of all the technologies that Amazon has developed. The nature of the cloud is that you can build it anywhere and have redundancy around the world. We’re also optimizing a lot of our code so that it scales as needed.

A great example of this can be found in a scheduling system we recently developed for our entire network of affiliated dental offices. Of the 400 offices we serve, about 100 come online at 8 a.m. Eastern time. Using the cloud, we were able to build an environment that automatically scales up as more offices hit their respective 8 a.m. start times as well. At closing time on the East coast, offices go offline and the system automatically scales down.

This allows us to right size our environment throughout the day.

Our scheduling system has three distinct requirements over the same set of operations: patient self-service, patients in office and patients being served by the call center. It also needed to take in to consideration a view for “My Schedule” and “My Doctor’s Schedule.” This system has become a useful tool for our call center and our dental practices as well. It enables our staff to see which office a patient is connected to, which doctor they’re seeing and the treatments they’re receiving.

Another argument for moving to the cloud is security. Over the past few years, healthcare has become a popular target for cyberattacks. In fact, during 2017 more than half of all cyberattacks were focused on the healthcare industry. In 2016 alone, more than 16 million patient records were stolen from U.S. health organizations and with the Internet of Things beginning to gain traction, the dental industry needs to protect against the threat of medical devices being hacked as well.

As a trillion-dollar business that relies heavily on its AWS business line, Amazon has built in layers of security to protect users IN their cloud offerings and even has cloud storage, email and file-sharing that is HIPAA-compliant. Amazon strives to ensure that new technology is HIPAA-compliant shortly after launch. Amazon spends more of their investment dollars on security than most IT departments have in their budget. It is likely one of the most secure environments in the world today. This is a critical selling point to a company like ours that, in turn, is focused on protecting the assets of 400 offices and ensuring they have no disruptions in technical services while trying to grow the business.

There’s no doubt that technology is dramatically improving the quality of care in today’s dental industry and that cloud solutions are playing an increasingly important role. The practices that will ultimately benefit the most will leverage technology in ways that increasing their focus on patient care while minimizing time spent on IT-related issues.

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