Help! We've been robbed!

March 1, 2011
One night I was awakened by a call from my alarm monitoring company. They said the alarm at my dental office had been tripped and they wanted to know ...

by Adrian Huang, DMD

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: cloud computing, server, web-based dental software, HIPAA, Dr. Adrian Huang.

One night I was awakened by a call from my alarm monitoring company. They said the alarm at my dental office had been tripped and they wanted to know if they should dispatch the police. Since it was a weekend night, I knew there was a good chance it was not a false alarm. I asked them to dispatch police. I decided to head over to the office to meet them. We had probably been robbed.

When I arrived I saw that one of the windows in my private office was broken and the blinds were broken. The police had found no one. The dental equipment was relatively untouched, but the laptop in my office was gone, as were the server and front office workstations. It looked like the thieves had tried to take an operatory computer, and then made a run for it out the front door before police arrived.

My first thought was about all the lost records. I had made a backup of the server, but I had been lazy about it and it had been a week since I backed up the information on an external hard drive and brought it home. I was missing a week's worth of data. I had lost all the recent account information and financial data that had been entered throughout the week.

I also lost over a day of work as I had to install new computers and network the office. My staff and I had to try to remember which patients were scheduled when, although there was plenty of confusion and mix-ups until it was all sorted out. On top of that, there was the fact that all these sensitive patient files were now in the hands of someone that could use it for identity theft. Those computers contained sensitive information concerning thousands of people who trusted me as their dentist.

I had to contact them to alert them of this incident and tell them to be on the lookout for ID theft issues. What if one of them wanted to come after me for losing this information? The whole thing made my head spin. I was kicking myself for being so nonchalant about my backups and security.

What if this whole incident could have been avoided? I thought about the alarm system and how it could have been better, but three of the four other offices in my building had been broken into at some point over the last 10 years; some have alarm monitoring and others do not. Maybe getting robbed is not totally avoidable, but extra precautions can be taken to minimize losses.

Computers top the list of items likely to be stolen

One area that would minimize the time and financial losses incurred by computer theft is Web-based dental software. With Web-based software, all your billing and scheduling and treatment planning is stored online. This means that if a computer is stolen, none of your practice or patient information is lost. Information can be accessed as soon as you log onto any computer with Internet access. Information is stored as soon as it is entered, so your backups are up to the minute. If you forget to back up on a regular basis, as often happens with server-based systems, you are automatically able to access all of your practice information.

With Web-based dental software, I would not have had to endure any downtime while computer repairs were made and a new server placed. I would not have lost any patient account information or a week's worth of treatment plans. I would not have had to spend on a new server, and I would have saved on computer replacement costs, as well as networking and IT costs.

I would have saved on reinstalling the software and on recovery of some of the backed-up data. I would have avoided the possibility of having patient information fall into the wrong hands, and having my property insurance premiums go up by having to file a more expensive insurance claim.

Web-based software can prevent a theft from being so damaging. All that's required is a computer and a good Internet connection. This may not work for everyone if they do not have access to the Internet. Sometimes people think that computing over the Internet is a security issue in and of itself, but it is actually more secure.

There are 19 HIPAA physical and technical requirements that a server must have. Typically a traditional server in a dental office meets only four of these checkpoints. All 19 can be met and documented by Web-based dental software. Web-based computing is arguably much more secure and HIPAA compliant than traditional in-office server-based systems.

What if your office server and computers were taken from your office today? What would happen to your accounting and appointments immediately afterward? With Web-based dental software, you can rest easy knowing that you can be up and running immediately if those computers somehow disappear.

Dr. Adrian Huang is a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in Lexington. He operates a paperless private practice in Provo, Utah, that emphasizes restorative dentistry. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected].

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