For Dental Businesses, Big Data is the Key to Weathering Economic Downturns

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Open data warehousing empowers practices
make smarter decisions during lean times

With the Fed hiking interest rates and analysts warning we could be heading into a recession, tough times lie ahead for our industry. It’s often suggested that dental practices are recession-proof, but the reality is that just like everyone else, both practices and dental services organizations (DSOs) will find it hard to sustain and grow their businesses amidst inflation, a tightening labor market, and a cooling economy.

To overcome those challenges, dental businesses need to focus on unlocking the power of their data. That might sound counterintuitive: during periods of economic turmoil, investing in data infrastructure might seem like a luxury rather than a must-have. In fact, though, the current moment offers an important opportunity for dental businesses to leverage their data in new, more cost-effective and capital-efficient ways — and in so doing, to make smarter decisions, optimize their operations, and keep their practices profitable during lean times.

How can DSOs become more efficient? It boils down to open data warehousing — the use of robust, cloud-based tools to simplify, standardize, and share data at scale across your organization. Done right, open data systems can transform data into a source of actionable insights, helping to position your organization for future success. Let’s take a closer look at what makes open data warehousing such a powerful approach for today’s dental practices and DSOs.

Free your data

First things first: if you feel that data is a headache or a liability, you aren’t alone. Today’s dental businesses collect and process a vast array of patient records, dental images, financial records, and more. Making sense of those records, and keeping sensitive information safe, is a big ask for busy dental administrators.

That’s why so many dental businesses fail to leverage their data effectively. Today, dental firms are awakening to the advantages of technology, replacing physical documents with digital datasets. But many legacy problems remain. In too many practices, electronic records remain locked away in fragmented file systems and local servers — the digital equivalent of a dusty filing cabinet. Extracting data from those silos is an uphill struggle, and dental staff often find it hard even to locate specific information, let alone leverage it to unlock actionable insights.

For data to be of real benefit to dental businesses, we need to break out of the “filing cabinet” mindset. Instead of scattered and poorly organized local data dumps, we need connected file systems that can be accessed easily, and structured in interoperable ways to allow users to drive new operational efficiencies, identify cost-cutting opportunities, and ultimately run leaner, more profitable businesses.

The power of warehouses

That’s where open data warehousing comes in. With a cloud-based data warehousing solution, you can unlock the power of big data without having to manage the entire process in-house. For individual practices, that makes it possible to use advanced data technologies that would otherwise have been inaccessible. For DSOs, it enables smart data practices without the expense of hiring IT teams and data scientists to keep tabs on your files, manage data infrastructure, and conduct advanced data analyses.

Done right, a data warehousing system provides connectivity across your entire organization, allowing data to flow to where it’s needed, along with the consistent formatting and standardization needed to ensure that data can be surfaced, interpreted, and leveraged effectively. 

That delivers operational benefits all across the dental organization. It means, for instance, that a specialist who sees patients in one location can easily access images or notes generated at another location, providing synchronized and effective care for patients. It also means that administrative teams can not only manage appointments effectively, but also proactively track collections and identify early-warning signs if patient payments begin to drop off or certain service segments such as elective procedures fail to generate expected revenues as patients’ financial priorities evolve.

Rigorous and connected data systems also provide important benefits for a DSO’s leadership team, enabling them to ask smarter and more probing questions about their own operations, and to draw meaningful comparisons between practices. If one practice is seeing high attrition rates, and another is not, an open data warehouse might allow you to spot the billing hiccups that are impeding patient quality — or to spot and address missed opportunities for patient engagement that are holding back growth.

Invest in the future

Above all, open data warehousing represents a commitment to the future of our industry. Besides the direct operational benefits of open data warehousing, new approaches to dental information promise to unlock powerful new kinds of innovation. 

The power of data doesn’t lie in the value of a single electronic record. It lies in the new insights that can be unlocked when you aggregate data and make it something more than the sum of its parts. That’s most evident in the world of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), since innovations in these areas depend on access to big datasets in order to generate new insights.

AI tools can already delve into patient records, images, and notes to generate clinical insights. An algorithm might flag an unnoticed risk factor in a patient’s records, for instance, or use demographic data to identify patients who might be less likely to comply with a particular treatment plan. 

Such insights can allow practices to improve their services and reduce inefficiencies. But they are only possible with open datasets — because AI and ML innovations can’t be built in the first place, or deployed effectively once they’re created, without direct and open access to dental data.

Open data warehousing, then, delivers benefits now for practices and DSOs — but it also lets us look to the future, setting our data free in order to drive innovation that will promote better patient care and more effective and profitable operations across our industry.

Optimize for security

Some dental professionals worry that “open” datasets are less private or less secure. In fact, the opposite is true. 

Data that’s left to stagnate in silos is inherently risky, because it’s impossible to keep tabs on what’s held where. If data is misused or misappropriated, the problem may not be noticed until it’s too late. And with ransomware and other threats increasingly targeting healthcare organizations, few dental teams have the resources or expertise to keep in-house datasets truly safe.

A well-maintained open data warehouse, on the other hand, is easier to keep safe precisely because it’s easier to keep track of what data is being held, why it’s been collected, and how it’s being used. Crucially, a cloud-based data warehouse enables dental businesses to leverage the expertise of their solution provider, rather than trying to defeat global cybercriminals on their own. 

With robust cloud infrastructure, underpinned by industry-leading providers such as Google, it’s possible to keep patient records and other critical data safe using industry-standard security features, with rapid patching and updates to stay ahead of new developments in cybersecurity.

During times of economic turmoil, it’s especially important to shield your business from potential liabilities, and to minimize the risk of costly ransomware attacks, corrupted records, or operational downtime. That isn’t a problem that dental businesses can, or should, try to tackle on their own.

Data-driven dentistry

The reality is that today’s dental businesses, like most other organizations, are increasingly powered by data. With the economy stuttering, dental organizations need to do all they can to streamline their operations, maximize efficiency, and innovate to unlock new revenue streams — and that requires them to lean into and optimize their use of data.

Fortunately, open data warehouse providers are now partnering with clinics to help them realize the value of their datasets, enhancing customer care and business outcomes. For today’s dental businesses, data is the key to driving growth and improving patient outcomes — and open data warehouses are a vital strategic asset as practices and dental organizations adapt to this exciting new era. 

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