Written by Bruce Stephenson, DDS, FAGD Sunday, 30 November 2003 19:00
Figure 1. Efficient dental office operation now requires the Internet. Many dental insurance companies now have online patient benefits and some will take direct submissions of claims and pre-estimations.
|Figure 2. As valuable as it is, the Internet is not without hazards. Just as with the use of electricity, some precautions are necessary to avoid a very unpleasant experience!|
Modern dental offices need the Internet. Its applications include online eligibility and benefits, free electronic claims submission and tracking, immediate nonrecourse third-party patient financing, patient newsletters, recare and appointment confirmations by e-mail, inexpensive or free Web sites, and a lot of unbiased information from other dentists about dental products, techniques, and the credibility of the latest dental gurus (Figure 1). (Note: Links to some of our favorite Web sites can be accessed from paperlessdentistry.com.)
A GIANT OPEN-AIR MARKET
Think of the Internet as a giant open-air street fair and market with people from all over the world wandering around. Most of these people are nice, honest, helpful, law-abiding folks. But some of them are pickpockets. Some of them are robbers. And some of them would just as soon kill you as look at you. Unfortunately, there are very weird people in the world, and some of them are on the Internet. You need some help to protect yourself and your patients from some of these people to keep you and your staff safe from these malicious denizens of cyberspace. Figure 3 is a “clip-and-save” checklist to discuss with your Internet IT security person. The list is not all-inclusive, but it is an initial set of “talking points” when you plan your Internet connection.
To prevent the above situation, you need a well-configured firewall. A firewall is either a hardware or software device that sits between your office computer system and the Internet. It can “hide” your computers from those pesky 13-year-olds, but still allow you to access cyberspace. It may also offer some additional protection in the form of content filtering. Parental controls are an example of content filters. They prevent computer users from accessing sites containing pornography, hate mongering, and other categories of Web sites that might offend certain people and have essentially no business value for a dental practice.
Internet Safety Check List
|Figure 3. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of Internet safety considerations, but it provides topics you should be sure to discuss with your IT professional. The Internet is a “module,” like data backup or digital radiography, of your total computer system.|
The last category of Internet intrusion I want to discuss is “adware” or “spyware.” You may already be aware that most “freeware” also installs advertising tracking software (adware), and if you remove this adware, the freeware will not function. The “free” in freeware isn’t true in many cases! This adware reports back to companies that are interested in where you go on the Internet and what you are interested in buying. Adware records this information and then sends it back to the Internet “mothership” in the background (ie, unbeknownst to you) over your Internet connection. (There are lots of background tasks running while you are connected to the Internet. Most of them are beneficial, such as virus definition updates, but a few of them may have more nefarious intent.)
Figure 4. Don’t fix your own teeth! Get some qualified help with the Internet. Computer systems are just too important to the operation of a practice to be “do-it-yourself” projects. A dentist’s group of advisers, in addition to the traditional accountant, attorney, and insurance professionals, now needs to include an information technology (IT) professional.
The purpose of this article is not to scare dentists away from the Internet but to stress the need for adequate protection and safety precautions. Just as with electricity, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Spending a little time and a little money to ensure a safe Internet connection is extremely cost- effective. Embracing the Internet, like using electricity, should be an interesting and rewarding experience, not a “shocking” one.
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