Working to help dentists automate business systems through computer applications, I have come across an unfortunate occurrence that is not only devastating, it is happening far more often than imaginable:


When a crash occurs, all the data stored on the computer could be lost. Imagine for a moment, walking into your office tomorrow, turning on your computer and nothing will get your computer working. When you describe what the computer is doing, (or isn't doing), to your hardware technician, the answer returned is enough to make you shudder; "I'm afraid something has gone terribly wrong. Your hard drive has failed. When was your last backup?" Unless you can reply with 100%certainty that your most recent backup was done correctly, your entire practice's data could be goneā€¦forever!

There are actions to take in your backup protocol to assure sound data recovery. The first step in the backup routine is to have a system in place that is carried out on a daily basis, and known by more than one of your team members. Your backup routine needs to be done on a daily basis, regardless how redundant it seems. It is a good idea to have your data backup protocol printed out and kept in your office manual, for the employees responsible for the backup duty to reference.

For years there was only one option for data backup, this involved manually backing up data 'in house' using several different means, such as tape drives, external hard drives or internal hard drives. Now, dental offices have another option, backing up electronically. Whether using a manual system, electronic, or both systems, a visual verification of correct data backup is needed.

When performing manual tape backups, a person needs to be certain the tape is in the correct drive, and the tape is not malfunctioning. The safest way to protect data is to use one tape for each workday, and performing a month end backup, using two tapes for the month end backup, rotating these tapes so that the office data is never more than thirty days out. One must be certain that the correct files are selected, for example; not just the Registry. If the backup does not include all the valid data, the backup may be for naught.

A process that is performed by some offices is a "test data restore". This can verify if the data was backed up. However, using the verification process in your backup software may be a waste of computer time, because of the immense nature of the files being verified. It can be quite time consuming, since the files are verified one at a time, in reverse. It is better to visually inspect the Report Log text daily to be certain of what exactly was backed up. The backup report will inform that the following files were not backed up or the files were busy. Busy files do not get backed up. Most times backing up the busy file is easily rectified by making sure all programs are closed before beginning the backup process. However, sometimes the report will show busy files with all programs closed. This is why it is prudent to have a competent computer hardware technician to rely on for problem solving discrepancies.

Speaking with computer technicians recently, I have learned that even the popular backup program, written by the well-regarded "Veritas," may have a flaw. Veritas may indicate a successful, 100% backup, even though this is not the case. A complete backup should mean that every selected item was copied. However, some files may not have been included in the backup routine. Again, one must check the Report Log that the backup program provides and read the status of the backup routine to determine if any files were not included. If errors were reported, contact your computer hardware technician and describe your findings to determine if there is cause for concern.

When data is assuredly backed up manually, there is another safeguard to consider; keeping the backup tapes, (or internal/external hard drives), secure. The data can still be lost from a variety of other causes, such as damage to the facility where they are stored, theft, vandalism, or viruses that attack your computer. It is best to keep tapes in multiple areas, being certain that HIPAA regulations are followed, and use antiviral software.

Electronically backing up data is a newer option, which could be used as a primary means of backing up data, or as a secondary assurance. A high-speed Internet connection is necessary to transmit the data to an off-site computer storage facility. The high-speed connection is preferable because backups by dial-up modems could tie up phone lines for hours. If using this option, be certain that the information stored is in an encrypted format, and that the company you choose is in compliance with HIPAA security. Transmitting data will be automated and scheduled in the time period you choose. The monthly rate for electronic storage depends on the amount of data you are storing. Typically it costs twelve dollars per gigabyte of data, per month. Most online services offer data compression and filtering. If this option is chosen, one must be certain that the company chosen is reputable, has recourse for lost data, and that all data can be retrieved if the company goes out of business. It is best to ask your computer hardware technician for assistance in choosing an online program.

As much as we rely on computers, they are susceptible to failure and can ultimately ruin what would otherwise be an anticipated day of bliss at the office.

Remember, computers use superb technology, developed and run by humans. Taking charge and being proactive about backing up your invaluable data will save time, money, and help avoid the stress and aggravation aligned with a computer breakdown.