Y2K: How much impact?

Are you just about fed up with all the Y2K mumbo jumbo? Will it be a catastrophe or a hiccup? No one really knows. However, I believe that it will not be nearly as bad as some people are saying. At the same time it will be much worse than most people are expecting.

Larry Emmott, DDS

Are you just about fed up with all the Y2K mumbo jumbo? Will it be a catastrophe or a hiccup? No one really knows. However, I believe that it will not be nearly as bad as some people are saying. At the same time it will be much worse than most people are expecting.

According to the Senate Y2K Panel, 90 percent of doctors are taking no action, and they have no idea of how exposed they are. More than 60,000 dental offices have done nothing to prepare for Y2K. However, Y2K will affect dentistry in many ways.

First, the office must test and fix all computer systems used in the office. A good product to help you with that is a find-and-fix program called Dental Solution 2000. But that is only one problem; you also must be prepared to handle how it will affect the rest of society and the other businesses that deal with you.

Most experts agree that the basic infrastructure of society will be OK. That is power, phone service, food supply, transportation, and such. In the dental office, we will need to be concerned with the flow of money and dental supplies.

- Money. The banking industry is probably the most Y2K-prepared business in the country. All indications are that banks will be open and money will be available. On the other hand, the insurance industry is considered to be one of the least prepared businesses. What will you do if dental insurers can`t process and pay claims in a timely fashion?

The following is a sample letter you may wish to send to the major insurance companies you deal with in your office:

"We are writing to inquire about your state of readiness to deal with the impending year date change on January 1, 2000. As part of our own preparations, we need to know if your company and information technology will be Year-2000 compliant by that date or not. Specifically, we must formulate our strategy in the event that you as one of our payers are unable to process insurance claims and pay them in a timely manner.

"Please respond to the following question in an unambiguous manner:

"Will ABC Insurance be able to process and pay all claims sent to you after January 1, 2000, with the same speed and accuracy and in the same manner as prior to that date?

"We look forward to your timely response to this question and appreciate your candor in this matter."

If you use electronic claims, you need to send a similar letter to the e-claims clearinghouse you are using.

Depending on how the companies respond, you will need to make some plans. How will you deal with a slowdown in cash flow? You may want to keep extra cash reserves available in the bank. On the other hand, you may want to limit or eliminate insurance assignment.

- Supplies. Y2K is a global issue. Many countries outside the United States may not be as prepared as we are. Even if your local supply company is Y2K-ready, it may have a hard time getting certain items from other countries after the New Year. You may want to send an inquiry letter to your primary suppliers as well.

What will you do if you can`t get a critical supply, such as latex gloves, for a while? An easy and inexpensive idea is to stock up in advance. Plan to stock a two-month supply of critical items. Start to do this now; they may be harder to get later in the year. This will cost nothing extra, as you would be buying them later anyway.

- Records. A final idea is to make copies of all critical data before the New Year. This would include a good, complete, and verified backup of all your office computer data. This should include paper records of all bank transactions, insurance claims, credit card charges, accounts receivable, bank statements, and anything else you do on a computer, such as patient schedules or checkbooks.

The Y2K computer bug will affect your dental office. How significant or costly it is will be dependent upon how prepared you are.

The future is coming, and it will be amazing!

Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He is also an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups. He is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute, is a member of AADPA, and will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming ADA Technology Day. 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 emmott@primenet.com.

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