Tech authors, myself included, frequently extol the prospects of expanding your office PC’s role in managing your practice. The stylish jargon “paperless office” is tossed around with promises of functionality so streamlined that it will make your head spin. While many of us have already adapted a management package to control front desk operations with one, maybe two PCs handling the lion’s share of the workload, relatively few have stepped beyond these boundaries.
PC DEPENDENCY: WHAT IS IT?
If we think of PCD as a syndrome, the symptoms are easy to spot. If you meander through the halls of the office to be diagnosed, you’ll notice a variety of monitors perched on countertops wherever you turn. Some will be bulky CRTs, while others will be flat-screened. In any case, signs of Windows-based applications abound. Some monitors will display the provider’s work schedule for the day, others will be tracking patient accounts, while yet others will be sifting through payroll operations. Still another will be running its own display as a queue of electronic claims is whisked away to a distant clearinghouse. If you look carefully, you may also spot a small box or two (the HUBS) with green lights flashing in symphony as network communications race from server to client and back again.
PCD is additionally marked by an absence of what was once known as “the appointment book.” You know, the spiral bound, frayed, antique volume that people used to write in. When asking an office worker caught in the throes of PCD about her recollection of such an entity, anticipate a puzzled, almost confused look. It’s unmistakable.
TO ITS KNEES
I’m going to come clean. My office suffers from PCD. You’ve been told the signs of the condition, now let’s talk about what happens when the system is challenged.
You ask: “Why didn’t your software vendor take on the problem, doctor?” Well, software vendors aren’t like the phone or cable companies. They are usually located not where you practice, and their teams of service people are limited in number, and worse yet, they are most likely out doing something else when the big one hits. You need local help.
WHAT TANGLED WEBS WE WEAVE
How many of us have built our networks in one fell swoop? I would venture the vast minority. Instead, we build up the network, inching into PCD, one or two PCs at a time. Along the way, multiple former slide-rule operators piece the process together, each condemning his predecessor’s handling of the network configuration. The result is a somewhat heterogeneous mélange of PC hardware with slightly differing operating systems and hardware configurations, trying to play nice with one another. Subtle, unexplained malfunctions such as system crashes or computer lockups will interrupt the day as a brave business assistant stops what she’s doing to try and right the ship. Universal? Not necessarily, but not uncommon either. The more PCs in your network, the more potential issues to solve.
THE SOFTWARE CONVERSION
Next, consider the software conversion. Early on (maybe not so early on) you purchased an econo-management package after being told it would do what the big boys do, but for less money. Two years later, the truth emerges. Your bargain software is inadequate, and the development company has either folded its tent and vanished or been bought out by a bigger fish that no longer will support your package. It’s now time to jump ship and buy into the mainstream.
THE SOFTWARE “UPGRADE”
To make a long story shorter, the next 2 weeks are spent debugging the debugger. The fix fixed, but it also didn’t like some of the peculiarities of your system and decided to punish you for being a nonconformist. Six phone calls to the software vendor later, you’re stable again. You’ve also been promised that the next upgrade disk will fix the last fix. Perspiration beads on your forehead as you make an oath to yourself to toss the next upgrade envelope as soon as it crosses your desk.
RAISING THE BAR
One other item needs to be mentioned. (I have a word limit, believe me, I could go on.) PCD also means that your hiring practices have now entered what I call “ the reverse limbo” (you remember the dance?). That is, the aptitude of prospective employees becomes subject to an ever-raising bar.
PCD need not be a debilitating condition. One merely should be cognizant that this particular utopia can have its hellish days. From the preceding text, I’d like you to take away some key points in order to make your case of PCD one of the more pleasant varieties.
If your system is stable and the latest fix-it disk addresses issues that you haven’t been troubled by, consider waiting for the next revision, and then the next, and then…
Dr. Goldstein practices general dentistry in a group setting in Wolcott, Conn. He enjoys promoting the cosmetic side of his practice and has found it helpful to incorporate high-tech methodology into his daily routine to accomplish this. Dr. Goldstein serves on the staff of contributing editors at Dentistry Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his office at (203) 879-4649. He is prepared to speak on both digital imaging in dentistry and on the use of high-tech methodology to further the cosmetic practice.