Computers--learning from loss

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You arrive at your clinic to begin another fulfilling day, only to find that your clinic is not the same as you left it the night before. Someone broke into your clinic. As you survey the damages, you notice your computer was stolen.

You had been so diligent in keeping patient records, sales reports, inventory, contact names and numbers, and even tax records—but everything was maintained on your computer. You kept backups, but the last time you updated them was three months ago.

Have you ever considered the amount of time and effort it would take to go through a claim such as the one described here? Or the costs associated with rebuilding lost data or paying an employee to manually write or re-enter data, or the time needed to shop for a new computer?

With that in mind, when was the last time you evaluated how well you safeguard your computers from theft or damage? How do you protect the valuable data housed within your computers?

Theft prevention
Computers and even data are frequently stolen. Thieves have no problem reselling them. In fact, your hard drive can be wiped clean, removed from the central processing unit, and resold at a computer trade show, and few buyers would even suspect it. We would all hate to have a valuable piece of equipment stolen, but frequently it is the loss of the data that is of greatest concern.

To minimize the potential for computer thefts, consider your office from the viewpoint of a thief. Look in the windows of your clinic. Are valuable pieces of equipment such as computers easily visible? Are they in plain sight when you are standing in other public areas, such as the reception room? If so, consider relocating them or using bolts or other devices to secure computers to desks or workstations.

Be sure to keep up-to-date information about your computers and other valuable equipment in a safe place—such as a bank safe deposit box or other off-site location. Keep track of serial numbers, model numbers, manufacturers, and special components. Also, engrave your practice name on the computer. Engraving pens can often be borrowed from your local police department.

Damage control
When discussing the concept of computer damage control, you may not think of the animals we care for as being a cause of loss. However, cats knocking over a central processing unit have caused losses.

Some of the most frequent types of damage, though, are caused by electrical surges. To prevent this common type of damage, consider using surge protectors for your computer and other sensitive electrical devices, including fax machines, telephones, printers, monitors, televisions, and refrigerators. Although surge protectors do not offer absolute protection, they can inexpensively minimize the potential for loss. In areas where electrical storms are frequent, consider installing lightning arresters as well.

Water also poses a threat to your equipment. Consider reconfiguring your clinic so that your computer isn't near any water source. Also, be sure to cover your computer when it's not in use.

If your clinic's computers are used to access the Internet, or if you or your staff use e-mail, your computers may be exposed to potentially crippling viruses.

Even if you don't use the Internet, viruses can be transmitted through floppy disks and CD-ROMs that were infected by other computers, or in some rare cases, by the manufacturer. Some antivirus software programs will allow you to download updates daily so that you are offered the best, most up-to-date protection available.

Information security
In our efforts to protect our equipment and data, perhaps the greatest challenge lies with information security.

Disgruntled employees, former employees, thrill-seekers, or anyone with malicious intent can wreak havoc on your computer system by deleting or damaging files or by stealing confidential information such as client credit card numbers.

You can secure access to these areas or files through the use of passwords. Other sophisticated methods of tracking theft and recovering data are available through risk management organizations.

Use alphanumeric passwords and log-ons when possible. Limit employee access to sensitive material, and change log-ons and passwords when you experience employee turnover. Do not store client credit card numbers in your computer. Although this may pose a minor inconvenience to your clients, most will appreciate your respect for their security. Consider using a firewall system as an added layer of security—that is, a system that controls how your computer accesses the Internet, and protects you from hackers and others who don't have permission to access your data.

Be prepared for the unexpected
Be sure to back up your data regularly—daily, if possible. Store the backup data at an off-site location, and consider utilizing two sets of alternating backups. One set would be brought to the clinic each day and another set stored off site. Alternate the backups each day to ensure that the most current set is off-site. If you must store your backups in your clinic, keep in mind that although fireproof safes and file cabinets offer some measure of protection, they are vulnerable to water damage.