Plan Ahead for Disasters

Plan Ahead for Disasters

Theresa Putzier*:

Practice Management

In the wake of what seems to be one natural disaster after another, every dental practice should take a proactive step to ensure that detailed information on the practice technology, data, facilities, customers, and suppliers are part of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

What they will often discover after consulting their IT department or provider is that their safeguards for data are inadequate. While equipment can be replaced, patient data can be lost forever. Having a proper back-up system for important data is crucial. A single back-up tape, left on-site, doesn’t provide much value if your facility and all the contents are destroyed. Even if the back-up media are stored off-site, without the details of your back-up system, the recovery process may be prolonged or difficult.

This is the area where Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP) can sustain your practice through unforeseen losses. The best plans include proper planning, documentation, back-up methods, and testing to see how your practice would survive in an emergency. Be sure to include confirmation that your hardware provider would have enough equipment on hand to ensure replacement in case a disaster (tornado, lightning, et al) occurs. The following are essentials to your current plan to make sure you are protected.


Proper documentation should include every aspect of your network. Create a network manual that includes:

• Hardware details including server roles, configuration, and service pack levels (level at which the software is updated)

• Software details including where it is installed, service pack levels, and location of CDs

• Account numbers and contact information

• Service provider contact information

• Serial numbers and asset tags (tracking information) of hardware

• Software support contracts

• Licensing information

• Firewall configurations and address details

• ISP (Internet Service Provider) contact information, IP addresses, and support information

By documenting all of this information in one network manual and keeping it updated, you have the advantage of contacting providers and vendors with the necessary information at your fingertips. Keep a copy of your network manual at the office for quick troubleshooting and another copy at an off-site location such as your home, with your accountant, or IT provider for disaster planning purposes.

Back-Up Options

According to a 2007 report on dental recordkeeping by the American Dental Association, most dentists still make notes in paper dental records. If you and your staff are still working from paper patient files — or keeping paper administrative files — making the full transition to an electronic data storage system is vital to the health of your practice.

To comply with the HIPAA Security Rule, your back-up plan must ensure that all individual identifiable health information (in electronic form) is retrievable under any circumstance. Three options available today to back up electronic patient and administrative records are tapes, disks, and off-site digital storage.

Server tapes are still relatively expensive, require human intervention, and can wear out, but are still popular with many business owners. The same holds true for disks, although they are a less expensive.

You can also back up data to an off-site data location. Back-ups can happen every few minutes rather than daily, and the data is accessible to you and your staff from a remote location in the event of an emergency. Costs are usually calculated on the amount of storage space that is used. This type of offering eliminates not only human intervention of managing the back-up media but also the costs of replacing tapes and disks and upkeep on back-up software.

With any option, consistent back-ups and secure storage will support a successful network recovery.


The hard truth of disaster planning is that nothing is foolproof. Still, your plan should be regularly tested to ensure that everything is functioning properly. Take down your network for a period of time and have your back-ups tested, either by launching a virtual server to your off-site storage or launching with back-up tapes and disks.

Testing can be accomplished in a few hours on your e-mail, server access, and other vital programs.

Schedule a meeting with office staff and your IT providers to determine what might be lacking in your current disaster or data recovery plan. Improvements now can preserve peace of mind and your pocketbook later.

Disaster planning is more than off-site storage and back-ups. It is a well-defined, documented, communicated, and regularly tested process that helps provide structure and stability in the event of a business interruption or catastrophe, greatly improving the chance of a smooth business continuation.

*Theresa Putzier is the IT Practice Group Manager at Olsen Thielen Technologies, Saint Paul, Minnesota. E-mail is