Written by Dennis Walsh Monday, 28 February 2005 19:00
When reading the title of this article, it may seem like this just another list of tasks to add to your “to-do” list, but it is much more than that. These items are tasks, processes, and attitude changes that need to be implemented and tweaked over time. The list needs to be adapted to your office and specific computer and network setup. You may find that only a few items apply to your office, but another reader may be thinking that the list does not encompass everything his or her office should be doing.
The concept behind this list is to improve how your employees use computers and allow problems that arise to be handled with less frustration and interruption. It can be extremely frustrating for the front desk people when the computers are down, they don’t know who to call, they don’t know how to get tech support, and the patients are getting frustrated.
This may seem like an obvious item, and you think everyone knows that the Internet is to be used only for business-related tasks. But have you communicated this to your staff? You should consult your lawyer for assistance if you are creating a written policy. I think you would be surprised as to how little your staff members know about the dangers and nuisances that exist on the Internet. They don’t see a problem with downloading that holiday screen saver or elf bowling game onto their computer. Hey, if it is free and my friend has it on his or her office PC, then it must be safe to put on mine as well.
The attitude that I see very often with Internet access is that the staff knows it shouldn’t be going to those sites that have adult content, questionable content, or would offend other staff members and patients. I agree that most people know this type of behavior is unacceptable, but this accounts for a small percentage of the problems that affect your network. Does your staff know that it should not download any program, screen saver, or game that you or your computer support company did not authorize? The majority of issues that result from Internet usage are usually caused by this type of behavior, not the viewing of unacceptable Web sites.
Over time, your office builds quite a collection of CDs for your computers and network. Where do you keep those CDs when they are not being used? If you can answer that question with a definitive answer and can put your hands on the CDs quickly, then feel free to move on to the third item on the list. If you hem and haw and say that you think your office manager has them in the filing cabinet or closet, then it might be time to pull them all together. It may take some time to find all of them, but would you rather spend the time looking for them now or when your server is down and you need the CDs to get it back up and running?
The task of organizing CDs is not that difficult to accomplish. Purchase a CD binder from your office supply store (either a 32- or 64-CD binder depending on how many computers are in your office). Put all of the CDs into this binder. If you have installation codes, serial numbers, or registration codes for the software applications on the CDs, then put these codes in the same sleeve as the CD. Put the CD binder in a safe location that is known to your staff. If you are out of the office when a problem arises, your staff needs to know where the binder is located.
TEST YOUR BACKUP MEDIA
This may seem like more of an administrative task, which it is, but it is also something that will help in other ways. If a staff member deletes a word document, he or she will want to retrieve this file from the backup media. Testing the backups is not just for your practice management software database: it is for all of your office data. Don’t assume that it is working the way you think it is supposed to be working or was set up originally. There are different levels of testing, from restoring one file to restoring the entire practice management software database, all the way up to restoring the entire backup media. Please use an experienced computer support technician for this task and ensure you have reviewed everything before he or she starts the testing. Also, making backups of your data to other media and locations before you start the testing is a requirement and not an option. Don’t make a backup the same way you always do before testing the restore, because if you find out your backup was not working correctly, then it will be useless as well.
SCREEN CAPTURE ERROR MESSAGES
Do you get frustrated trying to explain what the problem is or what the error message said when speaking with your computer tech or tech support from the software company? These error messages can be long and convoluted with many unusual words or number combinations. But this error message can be extremely helpful in solving the problem. So what is a person to do? Remember when you could hit the “Prnt Scrn” (called the Print Screen button) on your keyboard and a picture of your screen would print? The “Prnt Scrn” button on your keyboard still works, but the result is different. It does not print out the picture; it puts the picture in your clipboard in the same way copying in Word or Excel puts the information on your clipboard.
This may not always work, because the error froze your computer and it is not responding to the keyboard or mouse. If this happens, then you will have to write down the error or try taking a picture of the screen with a digital camera. My preference would be to do both, but that is just me. If the keyboard and mouse are still responding, then you can press the “Prnt Scrn” button on your keyboard. There is not an obvious response from your computer to let you know it worked. The next step is to open Microsoft Word or Wordpad and select “paste” under the “edit” option or right-click your mouse on the document and select “paste.” Word-pad is included with Windows 2000 and Windows XP and can be found under “accessories” on the “start” menu. You can then save this document and also print out a copy.
KEEP CONTACT INFORMATION READILY AVAILABLE
So, you have the printout with the error message, now who do you call? The office staff should know who to call, the telephone number to call, and the account or customer number needed to get tech support. The ideal situation is to have one person who makes the tech support calls with a backup person who can step in if the other staff member is out of the office. This means there is one point of contact for tech support. It shouldn’t take a lot of time digging through files and folders to find the number to call for tech support. If it takes longer to find the contact information than it does for tech support to fix the problem, then it is time to reorganize your contact information.
HIRE A SUPPORT TECH TO INSTALL UPGRADES
Eventually you will need to install a software upgrade on your computers. It is common for practice management software companies to release new versions with enhancements and patches. Do you let your office staff install these updates, do you install them yourself, or do you have a computer support tech come in to install these updates? If you answered “yes” to one of the first 2 options, then it may be time to rethink this answer. These updates are usually major changes to the software and files. The first thing you want to do is to make sure your backups are working correctly, and then make multiple backups of your data before starting the upgrade. This is not the time to find out your backups are not working or for you to learn how to install software or upgrades.
Yes, most of the time these upgrades install without any issues or problems. But what if you hit the lottery, your upgrade fails, and now you can’t access any of your data? Also, with most upgrades, you have options as to what is installed. Choose wisely. This is not the time for guessing or letting pride keep you from asking for help. I find the best time for you to try this on your own is after a long day of many difficult procedures and a full patient load coming in the next day. Upgrades never fail when you have a lot of time to recover and multiple backups that you are certain are good backups (or at least it seems that is the way it is).
DON’T TELL ANYONE ABOUT YOUR COMPUTER PROBLEMS
Do you always get the same error message every time you boot up your computer in the morning? Did you install an application that you downloaded for free, and now your Internet Explorer doesn’t work at all? Right…install Firefox and off you go. No worries, mate! What if that application you installed is really spyware, and it is tracking your keystrokes and sending them off to a server that is run by identity thieves? You should always discuss error messages or applications not running correctly with your computer person or tech support. Don’t wait until things get out of control before you try to fix the problems.
The office staff should also be encouraged to bring up computer issues when they happen. If you are not checking the PCs on a regular basis for unauthorized software or other issues, then you are relying on your staff to let you know when issues arise. There is a big difference between complaining that the computer is slow because it is 5 years old and complaining it is slow with lots of pop-ups.
TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING
Your office staff should have training on how to use the practice management software program. But what about using Microsoft Word or the Windows operating system in general? Living in New England, you have to learn how to drive in different weather and road conditions. (Keep those Massachu-setts driver jokes to a minimum.) Training your staff only on the practice management software is like teaching a teenager how to drive in the rain and hoping he or she can translate that knowledge into driving on a snow-covered road. The number of computer problems and issues will decrease as your staff members’ computer knowledge increases. They will make fewer mistakes or errors because they will better understand the implications involved with down-loading programs, deleting files, and responding to error messages. This is a case of the infamous “need-to-know basis.” The office staff “needs to know” how to use the computer, not just one program. I have seen users shut off their computer using the power button, delete files because there was too much junk on the desktop, and install programs because a pop-up told them their computer was infected with spyware and they should install this program to get rid of it. Those are just a few examples from a much longer list.
QUESTIONS MAKE THE WORLD GO ’ROUND
Encourage your staff members to ask questions of the computer support company or tech support. If something doesn’t make sense, they should ask for more information. Also, there are cases where one little nuisance is not brought to the attention of the contact person, but seeing the computer tech triggers the question in the person’s mind. A simple question like, “Why does the password automatically fill in on one PC and not the other when going to the insurance provider’s Web site?” can result in a time-saving resolution. The office staff must be comfortable with talking to your computer support company, whether it is over the phone or in person. A lack of confidence or uneasiness when dealing with support can result in more problems that go unreported, or worse, staff members deciding to solve all of the problems on their own.
If questions are encouraged, then your staff members may come up with a better way to do something, or they may ask a question that raises an issue you did not know existed. This goes along with the training section. The staff’s increased computer knowledge will result in better questions and usually a better resolution to the problem.
ANTIQUES = FRUSTRATION
I don’t think you should up-grade your computers all the time or that the latest and greatest is always the best answer. But, if your staff members are twiddling their thumbs while they wait for the computer to catch up or they have to reboot the PC on a daily basis, then it is time to consider new computers. A car becomes an antique after 25 years; a PC can become an antique after 4 or 5 years. The time frame is adjusted depending on the type of PC you initially purchase. If you buy a low-end PC, it will become outdated quicker than a middle- to high-end PC. Also, new operating systems, ie, Windows XP versus Windows 98, tend to be more stable and provide more functionality. A Dodge Dart with a Slant 6 engine seemed to run forever, but I don’t think many of you would consider using one to drive to the office every day. If your office does not rely on the computer to make appointments, process patient transactions, or track receivables, then keeping the old PC is a good idea. But trying to stretch a PC past its useful life can mean more frustration or worse.
There may only be one or 2 items in this list that apply to your office, but hopefully you learned something that will help your office. The list is a starting point and should be adapted to fit your unique computers and network. If you think of something that is not on the list, please add it to your list. Just because it is not covered here does not mean you can ignore it. The list should be altered as your staff, current technology, and practice changes over time. Don’t let the list become stale.
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