by Victoria DaCosta
I had a recent conversation with a dental hygiene friend who practices in the town where I live. We struck up a conversation about our likes and dislikes of computers inside our operatory. I asked if her office had a local network. I was surprised when she asked me what a local network is. I told her that, while it's sort of a form of gossip, it's actually networking your computer to the other computers in your office.
Walla! I had another article idea! I thanked her for her question and began my quest to write about something that is still unknown by some, something I take for granted. I discovered while researching this article that networking is big business — a necessary economic business implementation for successful dental offices.
If you have a computer in your operatory, you have a workstation, which means you have most likely already experienced networking. What you record in your operatory computer can be networked with other operatory computers throughout the office at a click of a mouse. I have mentioned in past articles that this is a nice feature to have.
Hopefully, a qualified computer technician has properly installed a network system in your office. I have witnessed too many "friends who know computers" improperly install professional software programs in dental offices. This can be a costly problem due to the lack of knowledge about laying the proper groundwork for networking in a dental office.
A networked office will be a time saver. It will replace those paper charts filled with illegible handwritten notes, and the time saved utilizing a network becomes invaluable.
• Local network — A local network is a system of hooking computers together in a very closed area (local) such as a dental office. Inside local area networks are two different types of systems called client-server and peer-to-peer.
A client-server network is described as one main computer called a "server" dedicated to running the dental office software, and it holds the central database with a fairly high level of control and security. This allows each computer to directly connect to the server and share common data from their fully powered workstations. The main "server" controls each of the workstation machines and defines what tasks each workstation is allowed to accomplish.
A peer-to-peer network does not require a server. Using this type of technology, each computer is linked to another computer in a circular fashion until all are connected. Each computer is a workstation with one of the computers doubling as a host of the database. Unlike the client-server technology, one computer is not dedicated to only sharing data.
• WAN network — A Wide Area Network (WAN) encompasses the client-server network to keep control over all data based from a central local computer.
• Internet access — The Internet reference suggests that if one can run the software locally, how far away can one share the main data file? The answer is probably as far as one can define a suitable connection, performance, and security. This technology is called ASP (application service provider). Technically, a dental software company could run a number of dental offices in a small town, but connect to a central database in Europe! What a futuristic thought! This also suggests how dentists with multiple offices over several miles can link them using high-speed connections through the Internet using an ASP system.
• Side notes — The size of your office and number of computers in use will help you determine what type of network your office needs. As a basic rule of thumb, if your office has seven or fewer computers, a peer-to-peer network should be sufficient. This option is the least expensive because it does not require an extra computer dedicated to hosting the database.
If you have eight or more computers you should consider the client-server technology. Although this option is more expensive, the cost will be outweighed by the increase in connection speed and data retrieval.
Networks have become and will continue to be an integral part of the dental office, with the Internet not far behind.
• Sharing data is instantaneous
• Instant communications
• One chart can be viewed on different computers
• Pride knowing you are in control of your production
• Can go off line
• Software downtime due to loss of network connection
• Having to re-boot your computer due to errors on another computer
• Updating the software via network
• Having to reboot all computers
• Main computer hub is bad, causing the rest to go bad
• Solving computer glitches takes time
• Virus can contaminate all computers
• Network installed by unqualified technicians can lead to major problems
• Easy to learn a network system
• Access to same information on all computer workstations
• Decrease in miscommunication between the front and back office
• Production of hygiene correctly counted
• Write less or not at all in paper charts
• Patient notes seen by every workstation
• Instant messaging to other workstations
• Source of information for hygiene reports
• Research the software companies that use peer-to-peer
• Hire a trained computer professional who is familiar with your software to install the network
• Learn all the network communication programs
• Learn all of the reports you can run from the network for your hygiene department
Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 18 years, DaCosta is a speaker, author, consultant, and an expert in the design of medical/dental software. She is also on the new technologies committee for the California Dental Hygienists' Association. DaCosta can be contacted at www.hy-techsolutions.com.