If you’re starting a dental practice from scratch or if you’re finally upgrading your office to go paperless with digital dentistry, IT set up is another important element in your starting a dental practice checklist.
How you have your IT set up for your startup dental office will significantly impact efficiency and patient flow throughout your office. That’s why it’s so important to have a vision of what you’re trying to achieve in your dream practice.
If you’re just getting started in your start up journey but are confused and don’t know where to start – review this video first.
If you’ve worked for other doctors in offices where you’ve become used to being able to access patient records from anywhere in the office, showing patients xrays right in front of them on another monitor, or if you’re used to patients watching their favorite Netflix show while you’re doing their root canal – there’s a thought process that goes behind it.
This does not just happen when you simply sign on the dotted line of your construction contract.
This thought process involves YOU, the doctor, and another expert who will help you set this up in your office.
If you’ve never had to deal with this process before, it helps to have a bit of knowledge of what goes into the IT set up when you’re talking to vendors.
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this post:
- Server & Computers: Do I really need a server for my dental office? How many computers do I need for my startup to start seeing patients?
- What other Hardware and accessories do I need for proper network set up?
- Wiring throughout your office: Do I need to hire an expert to do the wiring? What should I be looking for when looking for an expert?
- Backup systems: How you can protect your patient data and recover in time of disaster
Let’s dive right in:
Server for my Dental Office
Some of you may be wondering do I really need a server even if I’m starting a small office? – the answer is YES. When it comes to hosting all the main software applications that you’ll need for your day-to-day stuff, you should host them on the main server.
Stick to a server instead of just sharing with windows because sometimes windows update can cause the sharing of the windows to break.
What kind of server do I need and where do I buy one, and how much should I spend?
The picture above is from my email when I ordered the Server and the 16-port Switch for my office back in May of 2013.
Without getting too technical, for your server, you need a Server Operating System (windows) because it’s more stable than a workstation operating system. Server should come with a windows server operating system, unless you have a disc and want to install it your self. I don’t recommend this step unless you’ve done it before and you know what you’re doing.
I use OpenDental and XDR sensors in my office. OpenDental is very “light” in terms of how much resource power it needs to run. So for a server you’re fine to get 8 GB ram. I’m now four years into my office and have had no trouble.
EagleSoft, Dentrix, Practice Works are more resource intensive, so if you’re going with one of those, I would get something higher than a 8GB of RAM. How much RAM you need also depends on what systems you’re planning on running in your office.
My 8 GB RAM server has been running with no trouble with the Practice Management Software (OpenDental), XDR sensor software, and my Panoramic Xray Software application.
If you’re planning on a cone beam, the software will be much more resource intensive, especially trying to access the image files over the network. Consider 16-32GB of RAM if you’re going this route.
You should also check the minimum hardware requirement specifications for different systems such as Eaglesoft, Dentrix, PracticeWorks, etc.
Where to buy it:
Of course, there’s tons of other websites such as Dell.com, newegg.com, and Amazon.com.
Cost of the server:
Just like with anything, more accessories and more gadgets on the server, more expensive it will get. You need to understand if it’s of any benefit, and you’re not overpaying for things that you’re not going to use.
For a simple set up like in a Dental office, a Server with Windows Server software in range of $1000-$1800 should be more than enough. If you talk to multiple IT vendors, their recommendations will never really match and will most likely recommend things that you may not even use. When I talked to couple of vendors when I was starting, I had gotten quotes in range of $3000-$5500 for a Server in my office.
I’m not an expert in IT hardware, but I knew I was getting quoted something I’ll never need.
Computers for your Dental Office Startup:
The first question that pops up in your head is how many computers or workstations do I need and how powerful do they need to be? The answer depends again on what you’re going to be using the workstations for. Again, you’ve heard this a million times, but for a dental startup, cash flow is king.
So whether you’re putting the cost of all computers onto your practice loan, or if you’re buying them out right, it’s better to just start with minimal hardware and add on as you go forward and get busier.
How many computers should I start with?
The number of computers you need for your startup practice will depend on how many patient rooms you’re starting with.
Front desk: Let’s assume you’re starting with one front desk person only, you really only need one computer there. I have to recommend a dual monitor setup for front desk just because it makes it super easy to have the schedule up on one screen, and another application running on the 2nd screen. What my front desk will do most of the times is open the OpenDental software twice, so she can see the schedule on one screen, and on another screen, she’s looking at a patient’s billing information.
Dental Operatory: You only need one computer per dental operatory. However, you can still have multiple screen set up in the room where there’s one monitor behind the patient (12’o clock), one in front of the patient to their right or left (for showing xrays), and one on the ceiling for patient entertainment. To see how I’ve set up my room with multiple screen setup on the cheap, head over to my blog post here: Multiple Screens in a Dental Operatory – How to set up for Increased Case Acceptance and Patient Entertainment.
Consult / Doctor’s room (office): Consult room makes it convenient to go over a treatment plan with the patient in a non-clinical setting. I originally planned my consult room for this reason. But to be honest, I’ve done treatment plan consults with the patient in the operatory as well as the consult room – and I’ve found NO difference in impact on case acceptance rate.
But it’s nice to have a small office for yourself or if you need to discuss case with other doctors or even hold interviews with potential employees. So count on having one computer in this room as well.
Sterilization area: Having a computer in the sterilization area helps when dental assistants or hygienists need to access a computer that is NOT in the operatory. My assistants will use this computer to keep track of appointment schedule, checking-in lab cases, etc. This is not critical if you’re starting out, but for this computer which is going to be accessed only by your staff, you can get away by having a cheaper all-in-one ~$400 station.
So if you’re starting with 3 operatories, then you’d need total of 5-6 computers (one at front desk, one for each dental operatory, one for consult room, and optionally another one in the sterilization area).
How powerful do these computers need to be and how much should I spend?
I have 4 GB ram machines in most rooms, but I do find sometimes when multiple applications are open, such as, opendental, xdr, PAN software, some machines tend to get slow. That was in 2013. Upgrade the RAM to 8 GB since it’s cheap these days.
Whether or not you get a laptop or a desktop depends on how you’ll configure your room and where you decide to put the computer. There are also options of all-in-one. I wouldn’t spend more than $500 for the tower and a monitor. You can even go cheaper if you buy the monitor separately online. For less than $100, you can buy a 20 inch monitor that sits at 12’o clock for you and your assistant to see.
Other Hardware for your network set up:
Router: You’ll need a router for WiFi throughout the office. When you sign up for internet from a provider in your area, you’ll get a modem from them, just like how you probably have one at home. The router usually has limited ports, so that’s why you need to purchase a 16-20 port Switch (more on this below). You’ll want to connect your router to your switch via an Ethernet cable.
16 port 10/100 Switch:
The router you purchase probably only allows three or four other devices to connect to it via an Ethernet cable. But you’re going to need more than that to connect all your workstations, VOIP phones, and your printers.
Here’s the one I bought: Linksys – EtherFast – EZXS16W – 16-Port 10/100 Network Switch. Cost: $63
Here’s what the back of it looks like with 16 Ethernet Ports:
This is a 24 port cat5e patch panel w/ bracket. Your wiring company may provide this, or you may just decide to purchase one on your own. You can buy one online for less than ~$60.
The patch panel is placed in your closet, like you see in the picture below of my IT closet. It provides a place to terminate the different cables from the operatories and other rooms into the IT closet.
The patch panel provides an advantage where each port on the panel is labeled with a number. This number will match the number placed at the jacks in the different rooms.
Here’s a picture of the data jack/outlet in one of the operatories in my office. The station 15 will correspond to
the port number 15 on the patch panel. Your wiring company will set all this up and place labels on the data jacks.
The reason why i’m mentioning all this is because when you plumb another operatory in the future and you place a computer there, it’s easy to add the computer to your existing network. You simply connect another Ethernet cable from the Switch to the port on the Patch Panel that corresponds to the correct room.
Wiring throughout your office
Do I need to hire an expert to do the wiring?
What should I be looking for when looking for an expert?
For all the wiring throughout the office. You’re not going to do it yourself. In your own home, you can wire things yourself.
Since your office is a commercial space, you have to follow building codes, so you’ll need to work with a licensed low voltage expert. For my office, my town’s building department required a permit for low voltage wiring.
Where do you find contractors to do the wiring?
If your office construction contract does not including running wires throughout the office, then do a google search for “cable wiring contractors in [your-area]”. You can also ask your dental contractor for any recommended wiring contractors they’ve worked with in the past.
Talk to at least two contractors. You should have them inspect the sight after the construction has started but BEFORE the walls are up. Let your dental contractor know you’ll be hiring out for cabling, and ask them when would be the best time for them to come in to do their job.
The cost (labor + parts) for the wiring will depend on how many “drops” you’ll want to have. Drops are basically wherever you want ethernet ports or wherever you’re going to have a computer, as well as VOIP Phones.
How do you determine how many drops you’ll need?
Go room by room and determine where your computer is going to be. For front you should have multiple drops, since you’ll need one for your VOIP phone (if you’re going the Voice-Over-Ip Phone route), computer, printer, etc.
If you’re planning for a PANO/CT, you’ll need a drop there as well for data.
If you’re not sure if you should have an extra drop, run the extra drop now instead of later when the walls are up, the cabinetry is installed and all your equipment is installed. Because it’s much hard then.
If you purchase the cables from the contractor, there will usually be an up-charge. Find out what they’re charging for the cables – this should already be included on their quote.
Best place to find cables online at a reasonable price will be Monoprice. Before you place the order for your cables, make sure to ask your wiring contractor what length and type you’ll need.
I decided to do away with a dedicated firewall (SonicWall) because I decided to add the security layer at all the workstations. I did this by adding antivirus software on all PCs.
My router that I have has a firewall built in. In fact, most routers today have firewall functionality built in that meet all dental office needs.
Backup & Security:
If you have a server in the office, this is where all the patient data is stored. Backup and encryption is a MUST to protect your patient data from loss due to a disaster and to protect the data from unauthorized access.
There are generally two options when it comes to backing up your data.
One is to setup automated backups hosted on the cloud. Carbonite is an example of a cloud backup solution. The other option is to backup to an external drive located in office, plus another portable USB stick you can take home.
I have an external USB drive onto which a backup is created daily. A copy of that backup is also made onto a USB Stick drive, which I take home as a secondary backup.
You may think this is overkill, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
Both your server and the backup USB drives should be encrypted. I utilize VeraCrypt, which is a free open-source encryption software you can install onto the server and set it up to encrypt the server itself as well as the backup USB drives.
A backup of all systems is useless if you can’t restore the data. You should on a regular basis setup a protocol where you restore the patient data from your USB backup drive onto a laptop or a desktop computer at home to ensure the quality of the data.
If the information here has been overwhelming, what you can do is work a local IT company that has worked with Dental offices in the past.
What you need to do, however, is ONLY go with references. Only work with a vendor who comes from a recommendation. If you’re part of a local dental study club, you may ask doctors who own their offices for a reference.
As I said before, you should also ask your dental contractor who is building your office for a reference of a reputable IT person or company to help you get started.
To help with keeping cost down, you should order your own computers and server, other hardware I mentioned earlier, as well as the wires.
Even if you end up hiring the best expert in town for your IT needs, it helps to know the basics of how things are set up. You’ll find you can tackle some issues yourself such as adding an extra operatory in the future and adding the extra computer onto the network.
This post was not to make you an IT expert, but it should’ve given you enough background and a starting point so you know where your money is being spent.
Hope this was helpful.
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