Y2K Dont Put Your Head in the Sand!

Nov. 1, 1998
On Jan. 1, 2000, many of our computerized systems are projected to fail due to the inability of the systems to recognize the four digits making up the number 2000.

Thomas K. Hedge, DDS

On Jan. 1, 2000, many of our computerized systems are projected to fail due to the inability of the systems to recognize the four digits making up the number 2000.

The Y2K problem will present problems for dental practices, too. These problems can be divided into two major categories: 1) those that we have little or no control over and 2) those that we can investigate and control.

Most dental practices have one or more computers that operate a number of systems. Many of the computers sold in the last few years are Y2K-compliant; however, the older computer systems definitely are not compliant. The Small Business Administration has devised a simple test that will tell you if your computers are Y2K-compliant.

The test on page 79 was taken from the SBA`s Web site. It requires a bootable, DOS floppy diskette. This is a safer method to test your PC`s system clock, because it leaves the data and programs on your PC`s hard disk unaffected.

If you boot to your C: drive, you may end up loading Windows® or Windows 95® and other applications from your start-up routine. By using a bootable diskette, instead, you will ensure the integrity of the data and programs on your PC`s hard disk. The test script will check your PC`s ability to transition to the Year 2000, as well as its ability to recognize the year as a leap year. A warning: do not perform the tests by changing your system`s BIOS Setup screen.

Other items to check

The only other piece of critical hardware that a dental practice possesses is the phone system. Many modern phone systems contain time, date, and Caller ID features that may involve memory chips that are not Y2K-compliant. Call the manufacturer to find out if this will be a problem with your system.

Another potential problem may exist with the vendors that youpurchase your supplies from. Will the supply company have a problem with its computer system? A delay in the arrival of supplies under our current "just in time" supply-delivery system could have a severe impact on production. We also need to think about how our supplies arrive. Will UPS, Federal Express or the post office have a problem? It would be wise to inquire now.

Our dental laboratories deliver their products by means of a courier. Will their couriers have a problem? Many use computer-controlled burnout ovens and ceramic-pressing machines. These machines are controlled by microprocessors that potentially could have Y2K problems. You should inquire about these potential problems.

Dental insurance companies also present an interesting problem. Most dental practices deal with hundreds of dental insurance companies. Many dental offices accept the patient`s insurance co-payment at the time of service, expecting to receive payment within 30 to 45 days.

We all know that dental insurance companies will use any tactic to delay payments to the dentist. We all have seen every excuse in the book. Can you imagine the benefit to the dental insurance company of using the Y2K problem to delay payment?

Calling every insurance company to inquire about its ability to deal with the Y2K problem would be an exercise in futility. If you could reach someone that was capable of answering the question, would you trust the answer? The delay of insurance co-payments by two or three months would cripple the cash flow of most dental practices.

The best response to this particular problem would be to send a letter to all of your patients explaining the problem. Ask them to pay for their dentistry in full at the time of service and let the insurance company reimburse them. This is the only way to ensure the future existence of the dental office.

This policy should be in effect as of Nov. 1, 1999. Conclude the letter with a statement to the effect of, "We want to continue to be your dental practice and would like to thank you for your cooperation."

The Year 2000 computer problems should not be a problem that we, as dentists, should have to deal with. But reality suggests this will be inevitable. Let`s be prepared before the problems occur!

Checking your computer for Year 2000 compliance

Step 1: Create a bootable, test diskette. Insert a blank, floppy into the PC`s A: drive. From a DOS prompt, type Format A: /S. Or, from Windows File Manager, click on Disk/Format and check Make System Disk.

Step 2: With the bootable diskette created in Step 1 still in your PC`s floppy drive, shut down your system (close Windows) and then power off your PC. Don`t just hit the reset button or "warm boot" it (CTL-ALT-DEL).

Step 3: Turn on the power on your PC, and allow the PC to boot from the diskette.

Step 4: After booting up, DOS automatically shows the current date. Make sure the correct date is displayed. Otherwise, you may have to set the correct date on your PC`s BIOS.

Step 5: At the enter new date (mm-dd-yy) prompt, type 12-31-1999.

Step 6: After changing the date, the current time will be displayed. At the enter new time prompt, type 23:55:00.

Step 7: Turn the power off on your PC and wait at least 10 minutes. If you don`t, DOS will appear to transition correctly to the year 2000. However, once you reboot the PC, it will display the incorrect date if your system`s RTC has the flaw.

Step 8: Turn the power back on and wait for the boot process to complete.

Step 9: Type in date at the ready prompt. If Sat 01-01-2000 is displayed, your PC`s BIOS passed the test.

Step 10: At the enter new date (mm-dd-yy) prompt, type 02-28-2000. This will test your system`s ability to recognize the year 2000 as a leap year.

Step 11: After changing the date, the current time will be displayed. At the enter new time prompt, type 23:55:00.

Step 12: Power off your PC again and wait at least another 10 minutes.

Step 13: Turn on the power on your PC. Type in date at the ready prompt. If Tue 02-29-2000 is displayed, your PC`s BIOS passed the leap-year test.

Step 14: To conclude testing, at the enter new date (mm-dd-yy) prompt, enter the correct date.

Step 15: After changing the date, the current time will be displayed. At the enter new time prompt, type in the correct time.

Step 16: Remove the bootable diskette from your floppy drive and power off your PC.

Source: Small Business Administration

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