Dental information is displayed on a tablet computer using tab32‘s software.

Automation is coming to your dentist’s office, especially in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Like their colleagues in others areas of healthcare, dentists are seeking to increase productivity, cut costs, improve record keeping and ensure patient privacy. San Diego startup tab32 is seeking to provide a complete, cloud-based solution for management of a dental practice. Times of San Diego spoke with founder and CEO Kiltesh Patel about his company.

Why did you start tab32?

Kiltesh Patel, founder and CEO of tab32.

We saw large information-technology investments flowing into healthcare following passage of the Affordable Care Act. The evolution of healthcare information technology has created tremendous opportunities for both providers and the high-tech companies that create tools and services to improve patient outcomes and reduce the overall cost of care.

The dental market historically has trailed the healthcare market in technology investments. In spite of trailing by 5-10 years, the dental industry faces the same issues that required medical doctors to invest in productivity solutions. This creates a tremendous opportunity for tab32, which like its successful healthcare counterparts delivers an integrated, cloud-based solution.

We hear a lot about the need automation. Are dentists behind the curve on this?

Yes. The dental industry suffers from the same issues that required healthcare providers to invest in productivity solutions. The bottom line is that inefficient legacy systems and even paper-based processes are what the majority of dentists use today. Dental practices have a reached tipping point where increases in revenue are not translating into increases in profit.

The tab32 solutions uses cloud-based software and tablets rather than in-house servers and standard computers. Why did you take this approach?

First, the benefits of cloud solutions verses in-house servers are now well understood from technology-management and cost-savings perspectives. Moreover, healthcare regulations like HIPAA are complex and difficult for a small dental practice to comply with. This makes the case for cloud-based solutions even stronger. The technology market is evolving; at tab32 we believe the future involves easy-to-use apps based on tablets. Our offering of cloud-based applications delivered on tablets automates a dental practice’s workflow to increase efficiency — and revenue.

Second, the cloud allows provisioning of efficient services centrally as compared to individual offices performing time-consuming updates in-house. With the resulting economies of scale we can do more for the dentist. For example, our platform architecture allows tab32 to offer billing service to a practice on this principle, eliminating billing errors, staffing cost and also potentially increasing the collection rate.

Lastly, the cloud provides potentially a game-changing opportunity to collect data, understand patterns and aggregate information. This data can be used to help improve patient care and increase efficiency in the provision of care. This is the holy grail of healthcare — increased quality at lower cost. The tab32 software is designed to meet this fundamental shift. We have a massive market opportunity if we can establish leadership in the dental market.

How will patients benefit?

The dynamics of managing a modern practice are changing as consumer awareness increases. It’s extremely important now for a patient to be engaged in the care process. Because the treatment itself is largely seen as a commodity, it’s hard for an individual dental clinic to stand out. The tools and technologies presently being leveraged to manage clinics are based on outdated thought processes. This is very evident from the 59 percent attrition rate among new dental patients nationwide. Most new patients do not feel an affinity to their dentist.

At tab32 we are designing tools which enhance patient engagement and patient retention. Our tools allow patients to connect with their dentist in a meaningful way directly through an online portal. In a society that places high value on access to information, we feel there is considerable need for a system where patients can easily access their clinical charts, medical and dental history, consents, treatments and payment information.  This builds a connection with the practice and allows patients to make more informed decisions.

What would you say is the biggest problem facing dental practice management?

Many dentists are unaware or feel they can’t afford the time to take an objective look at their practice. With shrinking margins, decreasing profits and increasing costs, we feel they can’t afford not to. At tab32 we’re taking tools used by big businesses and applying them to the small-business world of dentistry. Automating the office so it functions when the dentist is not there is a huge advantage for lifestyle and profitability.  By automating their office workflow, dentists can typically shave 10 to 15 percent off of their annual overhead. This is nothing new to big companies but is revolutionary for small businesses.

Times of San Diego, a startup itself, regularly writes about startups in technology, biotech and other sectors of local business. If you are a startup in the San Diego area and want to tell your story, please contact news@timesofsandiego.com.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.