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Failsafe: How to secure your virtual practice and why you must: The best IT system backup strategies begin with thinking the unthinkable

Article-Failsafe: How to secure your virtual practice and why you must: The best IT system backup strategies begin with thinking the unthinkable

Mr. Lynott
If you've ever been a victim of the dreaded "blue screen of death," a patient record that you couldn't open, or a pre- or post-operative media file was accidentally deleted, consider yourself lucky. These glitches pale in comparison to the ultimate computer disaster — a server crash or a natural or man-made disaster that wipes out all of your practice's records including patient and billing files.

Think it can't happen to you? Computer consultant Michael Leibrandt, Abington, Pa., says that almost every information technology (IT) system in service over a period of several years will suffer a major catastrophe such as a server crash. Imagine what that would mean to your practice.

REDUNDANT SYSTEM PLANNING Further, computer failures aren't the only danger. "Many business owners tend to think of a computer malfunction as the only risk to their business records," says Jack Shea, president of Solutions by Computer, Springfield, Mass. "It's easy to forget about the possibility of fire or flood." Fortunately, modern technology has made protection from these kinds of disasters simple and inexpensive — but you have to give yourself the inoculation. Here are four backup approaches that can provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your practice records are protected from loss.

CD/DVD DISKS Compared to early floppies that held a maximum of 1.4 MB of data, CDs can hold as much as 800 MB. DVDs can hold upwards of 4.7 GB. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes. There are few sets of medical practice records that cannot be accommodated by CDs or especially DVDs. A single DVD with its massive storage capacity can be bought for around $1.25; CDs cost only pennies each. Most new systems now come with CD/DVD drives built in. As recently as a half-dozen years ago, a DVD drive went for as much as $500 and a single DVD disk for $35.

According to Mr. Leibrandt, you should keep in mind that disks have their own set of disadvantages. Some users have reported disks that became unreadable after a few uses. Others are readable only in the drives in which they were created.

Robert Meyhoefer, director of information systems at The Cardiology Group in Mt. Laurel, N.J., considers disks a good short-term solution, but doesn't recommend them for long-term archival purposes. "[CD and DVD] disks are fine for transporting data from one place to another," he says, but users should keep in mind that just one scratch can make a disk unusable.

"However, as far as cost is concerned," says Mr. Leibrandt, "CD and DVD disks can't be beat. For most users they should be adequate and would certainly be the least expensive [approach]."

JUMP, FLASH, USB DRIVES So-called jump drives are tiny portable storage devices that use flash memory for data storage. As small as one-half inch by two inches, they can be toted around in a shirt pocket or on a key chain. Jump drives will work with any newer PC or Mac with a USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 port. When you plug a jump drive into a USB port, your computer automatically assigns it to the next available drive letter (Drive D:, E:, etc.). Then, just use the drag-and-drop method to copy data. Retail prices for jump drives range from about $30 for a 512 MB-unit to about $60 for two GB of capacity. Some manufacturers offer jump drives with up to 16 GB of memory. "If you're backing up less than 2 GB of data," says Mr. Meyhoefer, "I recommend using inexpensive USB jump drives. "They're a great way of backing up and transporting data quickly and easily."

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