The Millennium Bug

March 1, 1999
There is no need to panic, but you must prepare now to safeguard your practice against Year-2000 problems.

There is no need to panic, but you must prepare now to safeguard your practice against Year-2000 problems.

Larry Emmott, DDS

There is a lot of misinformation bouncing around regarding the Y2K bug and what to do about it. There is only one thing you can be sure of: Y2K will effect your dental practice! Predictions range from global catastrophe to a virtual hiccup. On one end of the spectrum people are predicting that planes will fall from the sky, the stock market will crash, and banks will close. On the other end, some believe the typical person hardly will even notice it. The truth probably is somewhere in the middle, but the fact is that, in many cases, the effects will be totally unpredictable, and may even lay dormant, embedded deeply in your system, only to hit you when you least expect it.

There already has been much written about the nature of Y2K, so there is no need to restate the cause of the Year 2000 problem. However, many dentists fail to realize that Y2K will effect their dental practice even if their practice- management software is Y2K compliant. The Y2K problem, which includes data transferred from another source, such as e-claims, digital X-rays, imaging systems, word-processing, or other software, may have the effect of rendering a computer system inoperable. It will do you little good to know your practice-management system is compliant if the machine won`t boot on January 1, 2000.

You could try to test, check, replace, and upgrade all these components yourself and hope you don`t miss one. You could hire a local expert to do it for you. However, do it quickly because many people are predicting that technicians with this expertise soon will be overwhelmed. Or you could use a commercial program like Dental Solution 2000.

Dental Solution 2000 is a software program that will test your system in all potential noncompliant areas for Y2K problems and report them back to you. Then, if you choose, it will place a software fix on any problems you may have. The program tests your hardware, operating system, application programs, and data files. The test disk is available at no cost. If you have errors, the fix costs only $399 for your entire office.

The same basic program is in use in accounting offices, law firms, banks, government offices, optometry offices and in dental practices - over 2,000 installs. KeyLabs, a leading independent software-reviewing company, has tested the program, and the reviewers say that Dental Solution 2000 does what it is intended to do. Contact the company at (800) 906-5005 or

There is no need for panic. On the other hand, you need to know what`s coming and how to prepare for it. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

Four steps to ensuring Y2K compliance

You must be compliant in the following four areas to be certain that your computer system is ready, and you are not at risk:

Hardware - This is the area that gets most of the media attention, and involves underlying computer components with built-in clocks. It includes the BIOS/ CMOS elements. Also, many peripheral hardware components, such as printers, have embedded chips with time functions, and they may be effected as well. There is no way to look at the hardware and see that it is or is not compliant; it must be tested. Chips not only need to accept the new date, they must retain the change. The retention issue is something new and may be one of those bugs that will effect you when you least expect it. Purchasing new hardware may not even help, as you have no way of knowing what chips were used in the manufacturing process.

(1) Operating system - With DOS/Windows, etc., you must upgrade the operating system so that it works in conjunction with the hardware BIOS and CMOS and with all of your application programs. The only version of Windows that is fully compliant is Windows 98, and then only if installed from scratch - the upgrade from Windows 95 does not solve the problem. Mac, on the other hand, is Y2K-compliant.

(2) Application programs - You also are at risk if you use applications (programs) with year, date data fields that are only two digits in length. How will your system handle the problem of where to put the four-digit year dates after 2000? Certain functions inside application programs will cease to run with the year change. Other functions will work sometimes. This isn`t just your main practice-management program, but includes all the applications you use - word-processing, e-mail, digital radiography, games, checkbook, etc.

(3) Data fields - If you have data fields that only are two digits in length, and someone sends to you, or an application program reports, a four-digit date, how will your system handle the problem? Or, what about the opposite situation? You have a four-digit data field, but someone sends you only a two-digit date. Your application programs, databases and date-dependent fields, e-claims, e-mail, and Internet programs could corrupt your system data, other programs, or the operating system.

You must address all four of the compliance problems and issues. Don`t make the mistake of thinking that purchasing new hardware will fix your Y2K problem. Don`t make the mistake of thinking that if your hardware is compliant you are OK. Don`t make the mistake of thinking that if your practice-management program is Y2K-compliant, you are safe. Don`t make the mistake of thinking that your e-claims and Internet-based programs will not corrupt your compliant programs and bring your system to a halt. Be safe. Address the problem now while there is time to fix it. Unlike other professions where the problem is a year away, in dentistry, where we book six months in advance, the problem will present itself in just a few months.