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Choosing the best business continuity system for your practice

Oct. 26, 2016
One of the most important decisions businesses in any industry face is data management over time. Having the best business continuity plan in place will ensure that your practice can continue to operate in the event that something happens to your files.

One of the most important decisions businesses in any industry face is how to manage all of the data they accumulate over time. With the boom in technology over the past decade, systems have been created not only to securely manage data, but also to ensure that businesses continue to operate if something happens to their files. While many options are available specifically for the dental industry, it's important to know the benefits of each of these data continuity systems to make the choice that is best for your practice and, most importantly, your patients.

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What is business continuity?

Business continuity is a plan that allows a dental office to respond to accidents, emergencies, or hazards that affect the server without stopping or interfering with day-to-day operations.

There are two aspects of a business continuity plan:

• Data archiving is removing selected files from your office server that are no longer being used on a day- to-day basis. This makes your server more organized.

• Data backup occurs when selected files are put in some form of vehicle, such as an external hard drive or storage locker, and moved to a different location from the main files.

Business continuity systems have come a long way over the past few years. Most likely when you started going to a dentist, all of your information was documented on paper and stored in a file cabinet in the front office. Once that cabinet was full, the doctor would prune the inactive patient files, and their information would be removed from the office and stored someplace else. Though that information would no longer require valuable space in the file cabinet, it wouldn't always be easily accessible if needed. Additionally, dentists needed to secure those cabinets from physical damage, such as a fire, flood, or break-in since the storage location held important and confidential patient data.

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With the advancement of technology, patient information has now been transferred almost entirely to paperless documentation systems. Business continuity systems have been created to take the inactive files on a computer server and move them into a separate physical or cloud-based server for data storage. These systems allow offices to continue to operate if the place of business is affected by misfortune and safely store important patient information.

READ MORE | When disaster strikes

Why is business continuity important?

• Cost: One of the primary benefits of archiving data is that it will reduce the size of the primary data folder that resides on your server. By eliminating nonessential day-to-day information from the primary server, you can reduce the fees your office pays for cloud-based data backup systems, many of which charge more as file sizes increase.

• Security: An important aspect of business continuity is finding a system that can securely protect your data. Systems such as DDS Rescue from Patterson Dental take an image of your server every hour of every day. At the end of each day, the team validates the quality of the backup images to ensure they are not corrupt and do not contain a virus. The system validates the backups in three locations, assuring you that no matter what happens, your data is still usable.

This particular system also features end-to-end encryption. First, the DDS Rescue server itself is encrypted, so if anyone were to steal it, he or she would not be able to break into the system and read any patient data, which removes any liability from you. Second, the data is encrypted before it is sent to the cloud. Finally, the data is encrypted once it is in the cloud, ensuring maximum safety for your practice and your patients.

A critical point is that this information is protected in three different locations. This means that if you have a security breach or a server crash, you'll be able to retrieve your latest information backup and view all of your information online while a new, protected server is installed. This keeps your practice operating at a normal capacity, bringing in the revenue you rely on.

What should practices keep in mind when purchasing a business continuity system?

1. Is the business continuity system on-site only, or does the manufacturer offer a cloud solution as well? If it's on-site only, there needs to be an area to securely house the business continuity device. Along with the server, it is important to make sure the continuity device is physically protected. To do so, be sure to store the device behind a locked door or in a server locker that is screwed into a wall and locked by key.

The use of a dual system consisting of both a physical location and cloud-based storage will ensure that your information is protected in multiple locations should misfortune strike. Because your complete server can be accessed via the web, you can view all of your files and continue to manage your operatory remotely.

Also keep in mind that not all business continuity systems are alike. Be sure the manufacturer offers 24/7/365 monitoring and can restore the entire hard drive in minutes after receiving your call. Most IT specialists will tell you that they can restore quickly, but "quickly" to them could mean days.

2. How will your data be monitored? Traditional systems, while very effective at storing data remotely, won't be able to validate the quality of backup images. Thankfully, there are products such as DDS Rescue that take an image of your server every hour and validate those images daily.

As nearly one-third of servers will experience either a major or minor problem during their lifetimes, it is important to have a monitoring team you can rely on that will help correct the issue or send directions for taking care of a problem even before the server crashes.

3. Will the system meet the requirements of HIPAA, HITECH, and personal information compliance? With regulations for personal information protection at an all-time high, it's essential to make sure that the system you purchase will protect the privacy of your patients. The system you choose must implement security safeguards to be compliant with HIPAA, HITECH, and personal information compliance.

4. How easy is it to restore data when it is needed, whether there is a server failure and a need to restore the actual data folder, or a need to access archived data? In the event of a server failure, it's important to evaluate which systems can restore your data as quickly as possible. Not having access to your data can put your practice out of business until your patient data is restored. With some companies, that could take a few days or even a few weeks, causing you to cancel appointments and lose precious time and money. That's why it is important to have a system that monitors and tests your backed-up files on a regular basis to ensure that your practice can continue operating no matter what type of issue arises.

If your practice does not have a business continuity system, we recommend that you research which system would be the best for your office. Not only will it better protect your patients' valuable information, but it will help your practice be prepared should the worst happen.

Daniel Easty has been with Patterson Companies for more than 10 years working in sales and training. He has educated and trained hundreds of dental professionals in how to become paperless and the proper way to implement technology into their practices. He is currently the regional technology advisor for the north and south central regions at Patterson. He and his family reside in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area.

Steve White is a nationally known lecturer in the fields of business continuity, ergonomics, office productivity, fatigue reduction, and sterility assurance. He has more than 35 years of experience in the dental industry and extensive knowledge of product development, engineering, and manufacturing.

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