Most veterinarians are good about remembering to back up clients’ medical data, but critical steps are often missed. In-house backups are typically saved to CD, flash drive or internal and external hard drives, but information can be lost if these devices are damaged.
“Veterinarians are good about backing up their daily client information, but many don’t verify that the information has saved properly,” says Ronald A. Detjen, president and CEO of ImproMed in Oshkosh, Wis.
“It’s amazingly damaging to a practice when client data is lost. If they don’t have a secure offsite copy, they have to try to recreate the information.”
Practice Backup Options
According to John Bellos, technical support manager at Sneakers Software, Inc./DVMAX located in New York, three types of backup options are typical in veterinary practices.
• On-server backup
• Onsite backup, off-server storage device
• Offsite backup
The best policy, say companies that specialize in veterinary software and data storage, is to store records digitally onsite and offsite. Keeping a copy of records in house means the information is easy to access if needed, but having offsite storage with a reputable company or a secure location other than the practice, means information will be safe in the event of a natural disaster or fire.
“I recommend veterinarians keep copies of data at the practice and elsewhere,” says Stephen McAllister, director of computer system services product line for Idexx Laboratories Inc. in Portland, Maine. “Offsite storage is a good part of any practice’s disaster preparedness plan.
“If storing offsite means the glove box of an office worker’s car, you’re in trouble. A fireproof safe at the practice owner’s home would be a good choice if not using a professional company.”
Keeping an in-house copy of files can be as easy as using a mirrored hard drive, says Matthew Wright, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVR, founder of DVMInsight (Imagebank) and Animal Insides in San Diego.
“When you create a mirror hard drive, you are creating a copy of the hard drive,” Dr. Wright says. “By using two hard drives with the same storage capacity, every file written and saved to the first hard drive is also saved to the second.”
Computer experts say veterinarians sometimes hesitate to spend money with an offsite data storage company when they can save data themselves. But using a reputable company means the veterinarian can focus on veterinary medicine and not data storage.
Some companies offer a data verification service, which means clients receive notification that the data was received and is valid.
“Numerous companies offer data storage for veterinarians and other businesses, but they can only store what is sent to them. If they receive bad data, there won’t be anything to retrieve if and when it’s necessary,” Detjen says. “Going with a company that notifies clients that everything is as it should be allows practitioners to feel confident their data is accurately stored.”
Cost is always a factor when considering a storage service and should be factored in with length of storage and whethere there’s an additional fee for retrieving storage or changing companies.
“When dealing with a data storage company, always read the fine print,” Wright says. “Directly ask the provider and read the contract to determine if data will be deleted when you decide to stop service.”
Asking providers how they charge for data storage and what services are provided at each level of service will give practitioners a better understanding of what they’re getting for their money.
“A lot of vets pay too much for backup services because they don’t shop around,” Wright says. “Every computer goes down eventually and backups are necessary, but shopping around can allow for record security at a reasonable rate.”
“Companies usually charge per gigabyte and it can get very costly if a vet relies strictly on offsite storage,” McAllister says. “It’s typical to pay less than $50 a month for less than 50 gigabytes of data. A veterinarian needs to ask if the data storage company charges to restore data. You shouldn’t have to feel like they’re holding your data hostage.”
Ask a storage company how it backs up its backup.
“Find out what happens if the data storage company’s system crashes,” McAllister says. “You need to know what system is in place to protect against data loss.”
Customer service aspects of a business partnership are important. Knowing who at the company will help you when you need to access data and the time frame in which you can obtain data are points to check before signing a contract.
“Data is encrypted typically,” McAllister says.
The type of information that can be saved in-house or through outsourcing ranges from veterinarian notes and diagnoses to photos and radiographs.
“All client/patient/financial data can be saved,” says John Bellos, technical support manager at Sneakers Software, Inc./DVMAX located in New York, N.Y. “Photos and X-rays are kept in a separate location, which can be saved optionally, but images do not compress well and pose a problem for full backup solutions on a daily basis. Images and X-rays are better handled as an incremental backup solution where new/edited files written are saved and added to existing/older ones. Since these files are not routinely changed/updated like client/patient data, it is an acceptable way of backing up images.”
Most companies offer automatic backups to an internal or external drive of the server, but monitoring of these backups can be an additional expense.
“Companies may offer offsite backup and monitoring of onsite automatic backups done by their software,” Bellos says. “What this means is that if your automatic backup fails to occur in the practice management software on the local hard drive, the company will get notified and fix it as soon as possible.”