What’s most important? Service? Reliability? Speed? All are! (in moderation)
You need new hardware… four words that can send chills down a doctor’s spine. Do visions of huge negative cash flow and destruction of your tranquil office environment fill your mind’s eye? We’ve all heard horror stories of offices being disrupted for weeks while wiring is completed and network bugs are worked out of the $20,000 computer system that never quite works correctly. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Why do you need a new computer?
The most obvious reason of the need for a new computer is easy to understand; scenarios such as converting from a single user to a network because your staff are falling all over one another trying to use the single computer at the front desk; or when smoke starts coming out of the case; or the hard drive or the monitor commits suicide in the night, no one debates the need for replacement.
What if your staff keeps telling you that things are slowing down and they have to wait on the computer to do just about everything? Has your overtime budget gone up? Is billing and the monthly closing taking much longer than it used to? Is everyone on edge and overreacting to simple requests for information and statistics? Treat your staff as if they were patients. Listen to their complaints and seek objective findings to track down the underlying cause. Test and observe function to confirm the need for treatment.
Any computer or network can slow down over a period of time, but if you are using the same dinosaur of a system with a 386 or 486 microprocessor running at 33Mhz, you are losing money every day. If anyone on your staff spends all day on a workstation and accumulates five minutes of lost time waiting for things to execute each hour, that’s 40 minutes in an eight hour day. Do the math; 200 minutes each week and 10,400 minutes each year or 21.6 working (eight hour) days each year. A more efficient computer will gain back 21.6 extra days per employee through open invoice calling, recalls, insurance verifications, marketing, or any other normal daily task with no additional labor expense. Chances are your overtime budget will drop, wouldn’t you think? If you doubt this, try to open MicroSoft Office on your computer and then open the same version on a Pentium 166Mhz and time the difference. How many times per day is your staff having to reboot your system because it just locked up? How long do reports, statistics and aging reports take to run? The wrong hardware can easily make your staff spend extra hours generating those reports you like to see every month.
What computer do I need to buy?
The number one rule is do not try to save money on your hardware, but I don’t mean waste it either! You need to buy the best value, which blends performance, reliability, and upgradability from the person who can provide the best service. Would you hesitate to shop around or spend the money on an x-ray machine or adjusting table? Of course not, because they have value to which you can relate. Ask your staff if they can better appreciate the value of a faster computer or a larger screen that is easier on their eyes. While I have opinions about what hardware you should buy, we all know about opinions, so I’ll just give you the facts… and please put the PC magazines down!
What is most important to you?
Service? Reliability? Speed? They all should be important, in moderation. If you do not put the technology into your office to handle the requirements of your environment and workload, your staff will find a comfort zone and your practice will stop growing.
You can spend thousands of dollars on high speed networking hardware, but if you are only running a practice management program across your network, you don’t need it. A computer main board can cost between $50 and $600, but you don’t want to buy either extreme. Two years ago a Pentium 75Mhz processor cost more than $900, now it is less than $100, if you can even find one at all.
A certified technician
It is important to find someone who can help you make wise purchases that can be expanded and upgraded when necessary. Find someone who works with computers full-time. Chances are, if they can’t make a full-time living doing something, they aren’t very good at it. Make sure they have references from other professionals whose judgment you trust. Check with their references who are doctorsno one understands your special needs and situations of cash flow and record keeping like your colleagues. Call and speak with the users in the office, not the doctor! Unless the doctor is a “techie,” he won’t know how well anything really works anyhow. The references should also include recent installations who realistically should have had a few problems they will be honest about. Nobody is perfect and every job is different. Did they provide timely service and deliver what they were paid for?
If your spouse was in an accident, would you take them to a LMT to be examined and adjusted? Or maybe to your next door neighbor who reads a lot and seems to know what he’s talking about? I don’t think so! Then why put the financial well-being of your future into the hands of someone who has no proof they are competent?
Certification classes can award technicians specific proficiency ratings in network software configuration. Check their credentials and know what they mean. A VAR (Value Added Reseller) is different from a CNE (Certified Network Engineer). If you hire a friend of a friend or a patient to try to save money, you’ll get just what you pay for. I’m not implying that anyone is consciously trying to take money from you for the wrong reasons. I am saying that I have found people just don’t realize what they don’t know! A well-intentioned computer person can waste every cent given them and not know why anything is not working. It is just over their heads and outside the realm of their expertise. So the bottom line is deal with a professional who understands what you want and can help chart your future.
When wiring your office, have every possible wire location installed at one time by one person. This, too, should be someone who can give you references and conducts themselves in a professional manner. When in doubt, refer to the above paragraphs. Don’t try to save money by having a lesser quality wire installed. You’ll spend it twice! The wire in your network is like the nerves in your bodyyou want it to last a lifetime.
The main board (mother board)
You should also buy the best main board (also known as the “mother” board because the other “daughter” boards plug into it) you can find that can be upgraded to the fastest and most full featured microprocessor possible later. This allows you to buy a relatively bargain-priced PC now and possibly double your performance later for the cost of one part. Buy from someone who sells a large number of units and has been in business for a long time. That way you’ll know he has reduced his headaches by only buying what works and and he will be there if you do need help. Make sure the service people look professional and can talk to you about your problems.
There are so many nightmare stories I can tell you about backing up your data, and what can happen to you if you don’t, but I’ll refrain. It seems no one listens until the unthinkable happens and smoke starts coming from underneath your desk. Then it is too late. Next time you look in a PC magazine, glance at the classified ads. I found seven data recovery companies listed last year and eight in last month’s issue. Why do you think they can stay in business? People either do not back up data, or the back-up they make is unusable. There are so many options for back-up now that there is no excuse for not doing it the most reliable way possible. Look at the pros and cons of of all options and ask your supplier for advice. Chances are if he cannot give you good reasoning behind his choice for you, there isn’t any.
When should I buy a new computer?
Don’t make a common mistake of being penny-wise and pound foolish by waiting for the best time to buy hardware. The best time is when you need it! If you buy wisely, sale prices will not affect how much you spend. They will only allow you to choose from higher quality items in the same general price range. If you don’t buy wisely, admit your mistake and do everything in your power to correct it as quickly as possible. The money you stand to lose can quickly become greater than the amount you spend unwisely. If you have a bad feeling about your supplier, get a second opinion. Do not tell the second supplier about the first or give them his quote. They will always come up with something better. Ask all the same questions and weigh the answers. Who has your best interests in mind? Of course, if you have an antiquated software program that doesn’t properly operate, all the hardware in the world won’t fix your problems… but that’s another article!
Michael Williamson is a former Aerospace Manufacturing Engineer who has worked in the computer field at all levels for over 17 years. He has been a consultant for professionals for more than seven years and has worked with chiropractors for the last two years. Michael has worked with hundreds of offices across the country to solve complex problems and provide innovative solutions. He may be contacted at 813-864-3257.