Larry Emmott, DDS
One of the great advantages of computerized digital information is that it can be stored, transmitted, and manipulated electronically. This includes rapid copy and transfer of data - in other words, a back-up.
To understand the concept of back-up, think in paper terms. To back-up paper data, you would need to make a copy of every piece of paper in your office - charts, notes, the schedule (both past and future), ledgers, insurance forms, checkbooks, letters, photos, X-rays, etc. Then you would cart this massive amount of paper to a safe site, just in case there was a fire or another disaster in the office. Then you would do it all again the next day, and the next, and the next.
Obviously paper back-up is impractical. However, electronic back-up is easy and inexpensive.
If there was a disaster such as a fire, all of the paper data would be lost. You would never be able to retrieve the schedule, charts, or accounts receivable. With backed-up electronic data, you could have all of the information back that same day.
There are many ways to back-up computer data. The most common is to use a high-speed data tape. These tapes can store vast amounts of electronic data; in fact, one tape will usually store the entire server - hard disk, data, and programs - of an average dental office. Tape drives are generally set to run at specific off-hours times, usually late at night.
The completed tape should then be taken off-site the next day. This way if there is a disaster which destroys the office, the tape will not be affected. Most offices will have a separate tape for each day of the week. These tapes are stored off-site - usually at the home of the dentist or a staff person - and then used on their specified day.
Another simple back-up procedure, which can be used to supplement a tape drive, is to use dual-mirrored hard drives on the server. This provides instantaneous back-up. It is extremely unlikely that both hard drives will fail simultaneously, and this system allows an office to transfer server functions to the second hard drive and continue operations automatically. However, it does not provide off-site protection.
The latest innovation in back-up is to copy and transfer data to a remote computer. There are Internet sites now available which allow an office to log on and back up data to the Internet site using a modem. These systems are also automatic and provide instantaneous off-site protection. A variation of this is for the dentist to transfer data to a home computer using phone lines and a simple file-transfer program such as pcAnywhere. These systems work, but are much slower than direct tape drives.
There are many ways to protect your data from a system crash. All data should be backed up daily and stored off-site. Computerized electronic data is actually safer than paper data when properly backed up. Daily off-site back-up is not optional, it is essential!
The future is coming and it will be amazing!
Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He also is an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups. He is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute, and is a member of AADPA. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office. He has developed and maintains an Internet Web site at www.drlarryemmott.com; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Emmott is a member of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration.