Remote access

Unfortunately, dental emergencies don’t take time off, and dentists often need to access their systems from home or some other location.

Oct 1st, 2005

Unfortunately, dental emergencies don’t take time off, and dentists often need to access their systems from home or some other location.

There is little doubt that dentists find their professional lives very busy in the modern world. With the advent of many new technology systems, more and more information needs to be processed on a daily basis. While many of these systems were designed to make our lives easier and more efficient, the truth of the matter is that dentists are working long hours to accomplish their goals.

Many dentists will take at least one day off during the week or during the weekend. Unfortunately, dental emergencies don’t take time off, and dentists often need to access their systems from home or some other location. Thankfully, there are a number of systems and programs in place that allow dentists to access their data from remote locations:

1. Personal Digital Assistants and Smart Phones. They are all very popular in our society. Recognizing this, most of the better dental practice-management programs offer a module to allow dentists to take information home with them. This is the ideal situation for dentists who don’t have high-speed Internet at home and require only basic information. However, there are a few limitations. The practice-management programs will integrate with either a Pocket PC or a Palm, but not both. That means if you already use one of these devices and your software doesn’t support it, you’ll need to buy another one. Also, due to their much smaller memory capacity, the amount of information you can bring with you is often minimal. It may be limited to just that day’s callbacks, or a few days of your schedule. It won’t have enough memory to contain a list of all your patients’ medical histories and progress notes.

2. If you have high-speed Internet access at home, a number of software options are available to you. While you certainly can use dial-up, the graphic nature of practice-management software would make this process painfully slow.

3. The program most people are familiar with is PC Anywhere (http://www.symantec.com/pcanywhere/Consumer/index.html). While this program has been around a long time, it’s not one of my favorites as it only allows you to access one computer at the office, and I find it a bit clunky to use. The software costs about $200 but one of the main advantages is that you can transfer files from one location to the other.

4. Another good option is Remote Desktop. If you use Windows XP Professional at the office (it doesn’t work with XP Home as the “host” computer), then you can log into the system with this built-in software. This is a true remote desktop situation - you work on the remote or host computer as if you were right in front of your office computer, and you can use the mouse and keyboard normally. Since the software comes with XP (the client software is on all versions of XP and will work on any version of Windows if you download it from www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/tools/rdclientdl.mspx), you can’t beat the price. The main downside is that when you connect, it blanks out the screen of the person who is using the computer at that location. So, you can’t, for example, use Remote Desktop and have the local user watch what you are doing. This is not an issue for after-hours remote access, of course.

5. VNC is another excellent program for remote access. Some versions are free, but the ones with better security and passwords are not. There are many variations of VNC. I like RealVNC (www.realvnc.com).

6. To use any of the above programs, you’ll need two things: an open port on your router and a fixed Internet address (called the IP address) for the office computer.You can pay extra to get a static IP address. You are better off with a dynamic IP address. Then get a free service, such as No-IP (www.no-ip.com), which allows you to associate a name you choose with the IP address. If opening ports and IP addresses sounds like too much work, then try a service like GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com), which bypasses all of this for around $20 per month.

These tools allow dentists to easily have access to critical information they may need after the office is closed.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by e-mail at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com, or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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