TECH GUIDE - Online Backup for Dentists

TECH GUIDE - Online Backup for Dentists

“Open wide...” But is your practice wide open to IT disaster?

Picture the scene: you turn up at the surgery one morning, and the computers are down. You can’t access your patient records, financial and HR data. You’re trying to reboot everything, to no avail. The phone starts ringing. A queue of patients is starting to build up. You can’t see them because you don’t even know who they are, let alone what they’re here for. Before long, the waiting room is pandemonium.

I know what you’re thinking: “it won’t happen to me; my system’s fine.” Am I right?

Sadly, for more than one of our customers, it has happened to them. And it’s not much fun.

So how can you and your practice avoid a potential disaster?

1. Could your organisation exist without its data?
Ask yourself this: could you continue to function without the digital information you take for granted? Practice management software such as Exact from Software of Excellence has helped many surgeries make great strides in organising and accessing their critical information, but has also made them more reliant on computer-based systems. From clinical notes and patient charts to appointments and supplier contact details, more and more data is being stored in a digital format.

If a practice were to lose this data for hours, days or weeks, it would lead to a critical loss of revenue as it struggled to locate patient records, process invoices, make new appointments and take new intra-oral x-rays to replace old ones. This situation could also irreparably damage the reputation of the practice – patients who don’t get the treatment they need, when they need it, aren’t exactly going to be recommending the practice to their friends.

2. Are you adhering to data protection and auditing regulations?
Sooner or later directives will mean that patient records must be made available online; already clinical notes must be kept for a minimum of eight years. Apart from anything else, it would be impractical to store this data in a paper-based format. Your data must be stored and archived securely, so that it can be easily searched and retrieved in the event that it is needed. Can you say with confidence that that information would be available at the drop of a hat?

3. Are you backing up that data?
So you’re confident that your data is to hand, and you can retrieve it when required? Next question: is there an up-to-date second copy of it kicking about? Many dental practices – like other small businesses – tend to rely on tape backup systems, akin to backing up your entire music collection from your iPod to a bunch of cassette tapes.

Firstly, can you guarantee that backups are actually being carried out every day? Is it a job that’s left to a receptionist or dental nurse? Is someone else made responsible when that person is on holiday or off-sick? Do they take the tapes off-site and store them responsibly, or are they scattered around the footwell of their car?

Even if the process of actually backing up the tapes is relatively sound, retrieval of information can be harder than it might seem. Tapes can’t be used if the hardware needed to access them has become unusable, or unavailable through fire or theft. It’s extremely rare to be able to retrieve 100 per cent of the information contained on tapes, and doing so can take days and days – time you should be using to get your surgery back on track.

4. Do you have the right IT support in place?
Finally, are you sure that your suppliers will be able to support you in the event of a disaster? Would they be around for you in the event of an out-of-hours problem? Are support staff based in the UK, so they can get to you and help you get back on track? Would they assign a personal consultant to liaise with the various manufacturers and service providers involved on your behalf?

You need to know that, in the event of an emergency, you have the right people fighting your corner to help the practice recover and continue before your patients lose faith and go elsewhere. Take plenty of time to interview potential suppliers, get to know them and ensure they’re talking your language before you commit to a long-term contract.

If course, if the answer is “yes” to all of those questions, then you can afford to sleep easy, knowing that your practice isn’t wide open to disaster. But if you’re in any doubt, that nightmare scenario I outlined at the beginning of this piece could haunt your dreams.

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