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Plan for More Digital Data

Issue: Summer 2012

It seems like every day, another piece of technology gets added to your digital practice.

Electronic documents, cameras and imaging devices, digital radiography and cone-beam scanners all clamor for space on your computer network. How do you know how much server storage space you’ll need today, tomorrow, and three years down the line? Furthermore, are you confident that your data will be protected in the event of a server failure or catastrophe?

Let’s start with the basics. If you’ve turned over a computer ad lately, you have some idea of the massive advances the PC industry has made in computer hard-drive storage. Years ago, disk drives could only hold megabytes and later, gigabytes. Now, terabyte drives are the norm. What does that mean to you and me? Well, an average practice using intraoral cameras and basic intraoral-only digital radiography generates around 20 gigabytes (GB) of data a year. That scenario would mean that today’s terabyte-capacity server would hold 50 years of images at today’s rate. If that’s truly the case, why is a new computer’s lifespan only three or four years?

The simple answer isn’t so simple. Your practice is generating electronic data at a tremendous pace. Although intraoral pictures and X-rays only generate about 20 GB of files a year, your practice uses other systems that constantly add to your digital information. At TechCentral, we work with many dentists who are moving to paperless-office best practices. In these offices, there is usually a person who is punished—I mean responsible—for scanning any piece of relevant business paper that makes it through the door into the electronic record. TechCentral makes this job much easier with high-speed document scanners and storage systems.

Are you confident that your data will be protected in the event of a server failure or catastrophe?

If your office manager cringes when the postman walks in, Tech Central’s solution can cut your time and effort with an efficient document-scanning solution.

Depending on the scanner and settings used, scanned records can be as small as 150 KB, about the size of a large e-mail file, or as large as 10 MB per page, about the size of a high-resolution photo. Ask yourself if you really need a full-color, high-resolution scan of that EOB form attached to the patient’s chart.

Is it really even necessary to scan everything? That may be a different discussion, but when a document is scanned, make sure you are using the appropriate scanning settings for the information. In general, scan black-and-white documents at 100 dots per inch (dpi) and items with color pictures at 150 dpi. Only scan in color if truly necessary. Black-and-white files are the smallest by far, followed by grayscale files, then color documents. These settings vary from scanner to scanner, but poking around with the settings can be a huge space saver in the long run.

When you add a new digital panoramic or cone-beam imaging machine, your data storage needs move to a whole new level. Digital pan images can be up to 15 MB each and cone-beam scans can easily be 10 times that size. If you capture these images for every patient in your practice over the next 18 months, make sure that your data server can handle the load. Remember that each piece of electronic information you capture adds to your data storage needs. It adds up quickly—a connected practice can easily generate over 100 GB of data per year.

You do know how much free space is on your server, don’t you? If not, try this simple exercise. First, log onto your data server. There is a “My Computer” icon on the desktop or a “Computer” listing on the Windows® “Start” button at the bottom of your screen. Open it by double clicking on it (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Don’t worry if one of your drives is smaller than the rest. It is typical for servers to be configured with the operating system files on a separate partition than the data. There may be a “C:”, “D:” or “E:” drive listed. Even so, there should never be less than 25% of free space available on any drive as a buffer and for performance. If you don’t see a graph or free-space number, you can also access it by right-clicking the hard-drive icon and selecting “Properties” (see Figure 2). After you check for free space, just hit “Cancel” and close the open windows.

Figure 2

We recommend monitoring your server’s free space on a regular basis. If you document your dataset’s growth monthly, it will help you better plan for future needs. Remember to contact your hardware partner if your free space approaches less than 25%. Depending on the server configuration, you may need anything from relatively inexpensive disk upgrades to a replacement of the entire machine.

If the exercise above to check your server’s free space makes you nervous, contact your IT provider. They may also offer a server-monitoring package. TechCentral offers eGauge, which monitors your server for critical events such as disk failure or overheating, in addition to providing warnings for low hard-drive space. Proactive monitoring has helped many practices avoid disruptive surprises and protects their networks from avoidable problems.

So now that you know what your basic data needs are and have a plan for monitoring your future needs, what’s missing? What about backups? Most offices don’t have a high level of confidence in their backup routine. TechCentral recommends a multifaceted approach to backups to protect your data and to get you back to productivity in the event of problems.

There is simply no replacement for a backup that can be performed daily and taken offsite for protection. TechCentral uses an easy, secure solution that takes advantage of removable USB hard drives. When you evaluate your backup options, make sure that your IT provider understands your needs and is familiar with the requirements necessary to secure protected health information. Most USB drives do not come with the encryption necessary to protect data. Don’t skimp on this item—imagine the headaches if your backup drive fell into the hands of identity thiefs, and you didn’t spend the extra dollars for encrypted drives.

Also, don’t assume that you have a recoverable backup just because you swap out your backup device each day. Automatic backups can prove disastrous if relied on with blind trust. It only takes a few extra seconds each day to check that your backup was done properly. Make sure you have documentation on how to perform checks on your backup system.

As part of a multilayered approach to data backup, also consider an online backup solution. These online systems usually run overnight and offer a great secondary solution. Dentrix® eBackup offers 5 GB of complimentary storage to customers who maintain a Dentrix Annual Customer Service Plan. This is typically enough storage for the average practice management database with room to spare for your office’s business documents and payroll information.

You can learn more about eBackup at http://www.dentrix.com/products/eservices/ebackup/.

One great feature of online backups is that they usually provide multiple dated copies of your information. This could be valuable if you needed to restore a copy of your data from a certain date. With the right online backup system, if you ever needed to see exactly what your data looked like several months ago, you could download that archived copy upon demand.

Remember to plan your backup solution so it can handle the growth of your data. You would hate to invest in a technology today that has to be scrapped several months down the road when the amount of data outgrows your server’s capacity.

Turn to TechCentral for Answers
Remember that Henry Schein TechCentral specializes in assisting clients through every step of their technology journey. If you need help, TechCentral can customize a network server solution for digital practices of any size.

For more information about TechCentral and what it can do for your practice, visit www.henryscheintechcentral.com.