Do you get frustrated when you are at home checking your bank activity and you lose your Internet connection? Imagine if your practice management system went down on an August afternoon! The jump to cloud computing means that you are completely dependent on your Internet connection, which can be a scary fact for some users. While all major service providers guarantee “uptime,” you should be sure to check your local providers upload, download and latency speeds and history before signing up (you can test your broadband speeds easily at sites such as www.speedtest.net). One way to reduce your Internet anxiety is to employ a secondary connection such as a cellular router. These devices are inexpensive and allow for a stable Internet connection that can run at relatively fast speeds – currently up to 4G. In order to move to the cloud you need to feel confident that your Internet provider has fast and stable service. Without this, your daily mood might run in parallel with the status bars of your Internet connection.
In the news section of your homepage, you are likely to read stories about Internet security issues on the Web at least once a week. Survey data indicates that the biggest resistance to Internet-based computing today involves fears around security. Clearly, health-care data security is essential, and most companies with cloud offering and services include detailed SLA (security level agreements) that document in great detail how your data is stored and made accessible to you. In addition, some cloud-based systems employ “smart clients” rather than browser-based clients. While not as ubiquitous as a browser, a smart client provides much better security and in many cases, significantly improves the browsing experience. Finally, systems that manage highly sensitive data often run on “private clouds” where information is not shared with other customers and is often compliant with HIPAA standards.
A final limitation to cloud computing is the lack of integration with third-party products. We often hear about the thousands of apps that are being developed each week for our mobile devices, but few of these have any relevance to an orthodontist. Most orthodontic offices rely on software programs to run their offices, and currently many of these systems only offer a local solution. This is changing rapidly however, as new software is being developed to integrate cloud systems together, and the latest systems are being written directly on cloud-based platforms. While this is likely to be the case for some time, the development of large scale business apps such as Google apps, increases the likelihood that orthodontic systems will replace desktop based software with cloud substitutes.
The answer to this question depends on many factors and should be evaluated by each orthodontist in his or her particular situation. Questions such as: “Can I get fast, reliable Internet service?”,“What are my current IT costs?” and “How much time does it take maintaining and servicing my current server and IT?” should to be addressed. In some ways the move to the cloud computing is based on the belief that this is the direction computing is going. You certainly would not want to spend $50K to outfit a brand new office with technology that could be outdated soon. On the other hand, although it is growing rapidly, cloud computing still runs a minority of small businesses and will require more time to become fully mainstream. The U.S. is improving but still lags far behind in broadband speeds (Japan averages almost 20mbps (mega-bits per second) up and down compared to less than 2mbps in the U.S.) which will undoubtedly push more and more consumers to the cloud. But ultimately, the decision to move to the cloud must be based on the orthodontic practice management software behind it – some of which have greatly reduced functionality. Just because software runs in the cloud doesn’t necessarily make it good.
Last December I attend the ninth annual Dreamforce cloud computing conference in San Francisco. It was difficult to get a hotel room as more than 40,000 attendees participated in the conference, which included a keynote by former President Bill Clinton and a concert by Stevie Wonder. The most memorable moment of the conference for me occurred on the rainy streets of San Francisco on the first day. In protest of the new cloud computing platform, Microsoft had sent dozens of employees on scooters to pass out anti-cloud propaganda (including umbrellas) to the attendees. At one point several of the pro-cloud supporters began pushing, yelling and fighting with the Microsoft employees! The police soon arrived but not before a literal battle over the cloud had transpired. It seems that the hype surrounding cloud computing has reached a pitch in much of the business world as the old guard of software platforms are being replaced by new ones in the cloud. And like any other quickly ascending technology (i.e. iPads, TADs, 3D imaging) the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. While cloud computing won’t solve all of your problems there is a great deal of evidence to suggest it is worth a good hard look.
It might not be time for every orthodontist to jump to the cloud, but it is apparent that cloud computing is here to stay. Most data points to the stable growth of this new technology and more and more applications and systems are being built for the cloud. Across the world we see a dramatic rise in mobile devices, social media and on-demand technology. Certainly the world is becoming more connected through these devices and systems. Cloud computing offers similar promise with its centralization and open platform. In a perfect world, cloud computing would be as reliable as the electricity in your house. Until then, consider where you fall on the early-/late-adopter curve. While it might be some time until cloud computing reaches such a level of reliability, remember that only 15 years ago it was hard to imagine you would manage most of your personal finances through an Internet browser. Today it is hard to imagine actually going to a bank.
Craig Scholz has been with Ortho2 since 1987 and serves as the Director of Emerging Technologies. He also serves on the Ortho2 Board of Directors. He graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 1986, and later received his Ph.D. from Pepperdine University. In addition to his work with Ortho2, Craig owns two Orbit Imaging centers in southern California and maintains an active interest in conebeam 3D scanning and its application in orthodontics. His focus is on integrating new technologies in orthodontics which increase productivity, decrease costs, and assist in improving treatment.