by Paul Feuerstein, DMD
In this issue we are examining different software solutions. Hand-in-hand are some hardware items that can also be helpful.
Extra disk space
A glance at the Sunday paper shows that giant hard drives are available for your computers at reasonable prices. The drawback is that installation and data transfer can be a little tricky. An alternative is adding a hard drive directly to the network in the form of SnapServer (www.snapserver.com). Open the box, plug the unit into the wall, and plug a network wire into your hub. Immediately, your network neighborhood shows the drive(s). This is a great unit to use for image storage, digital radiographs, and other large items. Due to the speed of this unit, large files can be retrieved rapidly.
Two computers in one
Some offices want a monitor in front of the patient to show images and/or patient education and another behind the patient for practice-management software information. A-B switches and two monitors can accomplish this; however, changing programs is disruptive. A unique product called ShareView (www.iogear.com) allows you to virtually split your computer into two units. A card is installed in the computer and a box is attached that connects a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. Practitioners can simultaneously run the imaging software on one screen for the patient and run the practice management system on the other screen. At a cost of under $200 (plus monitor) you have essentially installed a second computer in the room.
A tangible back-up that can be stored out of the office — tape, zip, CDR, etc. — is a must. However, there is another easy protection to have when your hard drive crashes. And it will happen! There is a rating on every hard drive: "MTBF," or "Mean Time Between Failure." The manufacturer is telling users that the drive will fail at some point. The Duplidisk card (www.arcoide.com) allows two hard drives in your server computer that are exact duplicates of each other. The second drive is essentially invisible to the network until the main drive fails. At that point, the second drive takes right over without missing a beat. An alarm and flashing light alerts users to main drive failure. This is similar to RAID systems found in expensive computers, yet is available at a fraction of the price. The company has recently introduced a more complex solution that you can see on its Web site. The second drive can be put in a removable bay and taken off site.
Although high-speed access is becoming available to businesses, the costs are high, and not every area is ready to be connected. DSL charges can run over $100 per month. (Strangely, the same service is available to your home at under $40 per month). Cable is not available commercially in most areas. The result is that many offices still must maintain dial-up Internet access.
A "protocol" called V92 has just been introduced. New modems can now connect faster and upload faster than before with better reliability. Although certainly no match for the high-speed lines, these modems produce a noticeable increase in speed. Make certain your ISP (Internet service provider) is set up for V92; if not, there will be very little difference in speed.
Many new peripherals — including radiograph sensors, digital camera cards, and external drives — use USB. Unfortunately, many computers hide the USB ports in the back, making them virtually inaccessible. For about $25, you can get a USB hub, which is a small box with 4 USB ports, and a long cable that acts as an extension cord from the computer. Two companies that have good quality at reasonable prices are found at www.linksys.com and www.dlink.com. There are many configurations, and they are available at most office supply stores, computer stores, or on the Web at all computer retailers' sites.
Some new peripherals, including the intraoral camera from Cygnus, connect with the new "firewire" port. Some very new computers have these (and of course, MACs have them). If your computer does not, you can get an inexpensive card and literally pop it into your computer. The connection is very fast and reliable. It is also called IEEE 1394.
LCD monitors/flat computers
The prices on these wonderful "flat screen" monitors have recently plummeted. There is a glut on the market, and I have seen 15-inch monitors for under $400. They are particularly good for places where space is at a premium. Also note that a 15-inch LCD screen has a viewing area closer to a traditional 17-inch monitor. They are also quite helpful in the treatment room/two-monitor situation described above.
To quote a low-tech colleague of mine in New Hampshire — whose front-desk area lacked sufficient space for a standard monitor — they are also "cheaper than hiring a carpenter." Also, when space is limited, the entire computer can be installed flush in a wall. Check out www.CIEOS.com for their unique hardware called the Cieoport.
I have found three online companies that are excellent sources for any computer needs, including those listed above. In addition to having large inventories (fast shipping), excellent customer service, and comprehensive Web sites, they have printed catalogs available that are wonderfully descriptive and are a great information resource. The Web sites are www.tigerdirect.com, www.cdw.com, and www.ware house.com.
As you set up or upgrade your new software (using the information elsewhere in this issue), consider some of these helpful hardware devices. All are easy to install and have excellent customer support. Watch this column in the future for other unique hardware applications.
Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by the technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by email at email@example.com