Technology, IT and computer systems are now mission-critical assets for dental practices and perform highly-critical and sensitive functions. Any loss of data can result in substantial impact to the practice in terms of lost time, money and fines — not to mention that the loss of personal information to the outside world can be catastrophic.

Dental practice leaders must focus on their work, the reason for the practice's being and a number of other issues, including maintaining access to information the practice collects and keeps. Information has never been so critical to business, and digital data creation is growing at a rate of 80 percent each year.

According to Mozy, an information backup firm owned by Dell, statistics show that 140,000 hard drives fail in the U.S. each week. This means that one hard drive will crash every four to five seconds. One in 10 hard drives fail annually, and more than 70 percent of hard drives have some sort of operational issue. The cost of recovering a failed hard drive can be $10,000.

A 2007 study by Google one of the only studies of its kind said 8 percent of computer hard drives will fail within the first two years of operation, meaning 1 in every 12 computer hard drives will crash within the first 24 months of operation. The resulting risk of service disruption to a dental practice is an understandable problem for practice leaders, given the assumption that they will be forced to manage some type of service disruption and loss of access to files.

Therefore, the old cliché, "it's not a case of if but rather a case of when," is no truer than in the world of IT, especially in the care setting. When a dental practice's systems fail and data loss occurs, the impact will not be pleasant, but it will happen. The reality of the situation is that there are several types of system outages:

  • Hardware failures — servers/desktops, disk drives
  • Software failures — bugs, viruses, malware, Trojans
  • Human failures — accidental and malicious actions
  • Facility failures — electrical, structural, water, theft
  • Natural disasters — hurricanes, floods, lightning

Organizational leaders, already likely overwhelmed by the technical nature of their work and the never-ending litany of rules and regulations they must follow, need to ponder how they will deal with such issues when they arise. While some of these scenarios may seem unlikely, they do happen regularly, and dental practice leaders should be prepared.

How will your practice be impacted by loss of critical files, and how painful and frustrating will this downtime be? The loss of your practice's system functionality or hardware will impact your ability to serve patients in a deep and meaningful way.

Once you evaluate these likely problems, one of the next considerations should be how long you'll need for your practice to recover your data (if it can be recovered) from the affected machines in the event that they fail. Finally, you'll need to define how many hours or days you can tolerate without access to critical information.

So, are you prepared? In conducting this analysis of the practice there are still many more concerns that must be considered. At a high level, the following thoughts are meant to get you to think about the future of your practice's ability to handle a device crash. The following points need to be considered if you wish to ensure the success of the practice.

Do you have backup systems in place? If so, what are your current backup methods, and do you trust them?

Likewise, if any of your devices crash, do you feel that you'll be able to recover the data? How would you do so, and how long would it take? For example, how long would it take to recover a failed hard drive? What about a downed computer? Do you have IT support on staff or a consultant ready to step in to help you recover information as soon as your system or device fails?

What about your strategies for recovering from a potential hack or ransom attack? Do you know what to do if such a situation were to occur? How are you going to handle it? Do you have a written plan that's ready to put into action as soon as the event occurs?

Perhaps most critically, you need to determine who is responsible for your recovery plan, and you need to appoint someone other than yourself to carry on the task so you can remain in your leadership position and run the other areas of the practice in such an instance. If you've appointed a member of your team to handle this responsibility, make sure to review the plan with them and do so regularly.

And, finally, you need to test the plan thoroughly and at regular intervals.

Dental consultant Debi Carr, an industry-leading security and HIPAA compliance professional with DK Carr and Associates, tells clients, "Being prepared for a potential situation is the best option to lower the stress levels when event occurs."

Carr encourages business owners to:

  • Conduct an accurate risk analysis
  • Establish a security management plan
  • Create written security practices for your practice
  • Maintain a backup policy that includes all of your office systems

If you review the information presented here and answer the key questions posed, you're on your way to being more prepared than you were an hour ago, and as the saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.