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Last week I spent no less than 20 hours restoring my laptop to its previous working state after a major computer crash.  The problems came on suddenly and caught me off guard; so much so that I didn’t have my backup plan in effect after purchasing the new computer only months ago, and ended up with a lot of rebuild time on my plate that could have easily been avoided.

The critical data that I use for my clients was protected as we keep this type of information redundantly backed up through a system of onsite and offsite storage, however our robust client data backup strategy didn’t help when it came to the simple operations of my computer in the event of a crash such as this, leaving me exposed to significant computer downtime.

Given that it took “only” 20 hours to get back up and running, and the fact that no actual data was lost in the process due to our data backup strategy, this was a relatively inexpensive reminder of the importance of protecting from downtime of this nature.  As I’ve learned a valuable lesson with regard to protecting my computer, I’d like to share with you some of the important elements that I have now put back into place to protect my computer.  These elements will serve users well in the medical practice environment, and I hope readers will follow the recommendations that follow.

1.   Create a working “image” of medical practice computers at regular intervals.  An image is simply a copy of the entire state of a computer’s hard drive at a given point in time.  Software programs are used to create an image, and the image can be used to restore a computer to a previous working state within minutes, rather than days as I recently experienced.  In my most recent rebuild of my computer I’ve taken an image prior to the loading of any significant software or drivers that hold the potential for wreaking havoc on my computer, so in the event that there is a software conflict, I can easily get back to a working state within minutes.  This offers significant protection to medical practice computers as impeding the flow of patients through your practice will likely have a significant impact on quality of care as well as profitability, and it can be easily avoided through the creation of working images of medical practice computers.

2.   Stick with essential software on medical practice computers.  There are a lot of great software utilities, games, and tools on the open market, and due to this there exists a large potential for conflicts between software programs.  These software conflicts increase the likelihood of computer downtime dramatically, and can be avoided by simply keeping the installation of software on medical practice computers to only those programs required in the operation of the medical practice.  In the recent rebuild of my computer I was careful to only include those software programs associated with work productivity so that my chances for software conflict are minimized.

3.   Run only the required computer updates on medical practice computers.  Each software program that is loaded onto the computers in your practice comes with the ability to “update” the software with new features and patches on a regular basis.  This is a great benefit, but one that can come at a cost.  Each time a software update is run, the potential exists for the update to interfere with other software programs on the computer, hence increasing the likelihood of downtime.  Many times software updates will have a beneficial effect though, improving the function of computers in a medical practice.  It is recommended that before running updates, that the medical practice computer administrator read about the actual updates to be performed to ensure that they are required and necessary for the function of the medical practice computers.

4.   Backup data files using a combination of local and offsite storage.  Backup programs can make a copy of your data files onto another location on your medical practice computer for easy retrieval in the event of an accidental deletion or unwanted version change to the file.  Retrieving a working version of a file can take place in seconds if a copy of the file exists locally on the computer.  In the event that a computer is lost, stolen, or rendered unusable however, the local version will be inaccessible, requiring that a copy be stored at an external location in order to be guarantee retrieval.  This redundant backup strategy is extremely important to the preservation of data, and should be performed at frequent intervals on medical practice computers.

5.   Use tested operating systems and configurations.  While a normally working computer is what we should all expect, it should also be considered a blessing to have a computer that is free from performance issues.  To improve the likelihood of this, use only tested operating systems and working configurations that have been proven to work within your medical practice.  If you find that Windows XP with the Windows Office 2003 suite works like a charm and never gives you problems, there’s no sense in changing it when the latest and greatest version comes around.   This is an area that is difficult for me because I really do like the latest feature sets available, but I am learning that the downside to this often manifests as reduced productivity which is harmful to any business.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my computer woes last week.  There are more considerations that can and should be made, but these few concepts should provide a level of protection for avoiding unnecessary downtime in the event of computer problems that may strike your medical practice.

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Vantage Clinical Solutions is a private practice consulting, management, and financing firm that specializes in small to medium-sized healthcare practices nationwide.