I will be bold and state that all the readers of this column have a computer at home and an e-mail address. Many of you also have Internet connections in your offices. At the least, there is a computer somewhere in the office with a modem that allows dialup to AOL or another service provider. Any offices that are using electronic claims need a dialup modem to connect to the service bureau. It is not necessary to have an Internet account to do this. This way the frugal office can avoid a monthly Internet charge and still have e-claims. It is also desirable to have at least a modem so that a practice-management software company has access to the office for troubleshooting.
However, many of you have full-service, high-speed connections in the office. Some use it exclusively for the doctor while others have Internet access across the network. In addition to office staff, many offices use the Internet as a resource as well as entertainment for the patients. Some offices have decided to allow patients to have Internet access via computer kiosks, or offer secure wireless connections. It is imperative to have antivirus and antispyware running with automatic updates (more on this later).
There is a quiet revolution going on with cable and DSL speeds. Recently, cable announced an option to provide a download speed that is four times the current rate. This will increase download speeds from 1.5 to 6 Mbps. Before I continue, a quick definition is in order. Mbps is megabits (or millions of bits) per second. It is a measure of bandwidth across the Internet. This is often confused with the subtly different MBps (megabytes per second), which is a measure of data transfer in the office network. Verizon, which has begun to install fiber optic cable in its network, is introducing a service called FiOS. This new network will not only handle the phone lines and DSL, but will also be able to carry TV information. Word is that there is a deal in the works with Direct TV and Starz (this might be in place by the time you read this column.) The interesting fact is that the cost of the DSL data service will be lower than cable (unless Comcast and others run competitive specials). The FiOS speed will be introduced at five to 15 Mbps at less than $50 per month. For a FiOS speed of 30 Mbps, the cost will be about $200 per month. This requires installation of the new cables in your area, and changing the copper lines to your house to fiber optic. (Once you have it, there is no going back). Another carrier, SBC, has Project Lightspeed with plans to attract 18 million subscribers. Since this column is written well in advance of publication, I recommend conducting a Google search for “fioshome” to get the latest information on availability.
The winner will be what we will use in the dental office. At this time, there is no real need for these blistering speeds (other than perhaps online backup) so the lower-end pricing should drop. I think a dental office will do quite well at 1.5 Mbps. At home, it will be about bragging rights, much like many of us do with our automobiles and other “toys.” Of course, your children will need top speed for online games such as Halo2 and the new Xbox live. If you want to know your service’s current speed, go to www.speakeasy.net/speedtest.
Of course, you are not always connected when you are away from home. Many of us depend on WiFi services in places like Starbucks when we are traveling. Many cities have installed broadband access networks, allowing you to access the Internet wherever you are. Verizon is calling this one VZaccess. All you need for this privilege is a wireless modem that slips into the PC Card slot in your laptop, and to shell out about $80 per month. The buzzword for this service is EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized). This is yet another acronym to join our already strange vocabularies.
One final note. With all of these situations, antivirus protection is essential. But I am getting a little perturbed with Symantec and Norton products. Although I have long been a fan of their antivirus software, I have to jump through a lot of hoops to install new versions - and more importantly - uninstall previous ones. I have had to work with customer support, and make registry changes to allow the new updates to function. For some reason, these programs seem to take over the entire computer. For an alternative, take a look at grisoft.com with its AVG antivirus software. See you at the Internet racetrack.
Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and he is an ADA Seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].