Reinventing The Wheel After The Computer Crashes

By John McCord, DPM

There’s an old Chinese curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” The past four months have been very interesting in the business segment of my practice. Curse is a good description of my situation. I returned from a short vacation the first week of July. My office manager said, “I’ve got some bad news. You better sit down.” I immediately feared something had happened to one of my patients. To my relief, it was only my computer. It had crashed big time. Amy explained the screen showed an error message when she logged on the previous day. She looked up a patient file. The patient’s name and demographic information were there but the financial data was gone. She checked several others with the same results. The busy software support guy was not amused when she bothered him a second time that day. He got back into the program and then said, “The next question I’m going to ask is very important. Are your files backed up?” We had a fail-safe backup scheme in our office. We used a tape drive and backed up the data daily. Amy took a tape home with her every week so we would be covered if the office burned down. She assured the technician we were current with our backups. She loaded the latest tape to restore our data and the computer did not recognize the empty tape. She went through the other tapes with the same results. Our accounts receivable data was gone. This was interesting. I have been using a computer for medical billing since 1986. We have had minor crashes and an occasional virus but the data was always retrievable until now. We used a program called Doctor’s Office Manager until 1997 when we upgraded to DR software. DR was a great medical billing program that was geared for podiatric offices. I used the old DOS format that was simple and efficient. A year after we had switched to DR, the company had been sold and we needed to upgrade again to a Windows-based program called Wisdom. The upgrade cost as much as the DR software and we had to upgrade the hardware. We all liked the old DR program better. The mouse was a pain and Windows tended to freeze up or crash on a regular basis. In spite of all our problems with Wisdom and Windows, things seemed to go well. The software support service was becoming more costly every year but the folks at Vitalworks who sold and serviced Wisdom were helpful when things went wrong. When we lost all of our financial data and the backups had failed, there wasn’t much they could do for us. They did recommend we upgrade to a new version of Wisdom that had built in files to prevent our type of catastrophic failure. They also assured us they “wouldn’t leave us high and dry.” To their credit, Vitalworks support technicians tried everything to restore our data but it was simply gone. This disaster was not welcome but we had done some things to be prepared. Our accounts receivable was less than two months’ gross charges. I credit my office manager for working hard to keep the accounts current. My practice had no debt. I have never trusted the economy enough to extend myself with loans and credit. I have been a net customer with all my suppliers and credit card companies. Not having huge financial obligations was a lifesaver. We tried to resurrect the computer program for a month. Income continued to flow from earlier billing but the stream was about to run dry. I had to decide whether to upgrade to a newer version of Wisdom or contract with a billing service. In making that decision, I couldn’t ignore one positive aspect of having the computers off. My staff had more time to interact with patients. The office morale improved and the patients seemed happier. Having the front office staff entering computer data sends a subtle message that the patient is not quite as important. With the computers dead, all that changed. I explored the market for billing services and contracted with Cascade Billing Center of Olympia, Wash. They have been helpful with the transition and things are going very well. Amy used to spend 60 percent of her time entering charges and payments. Her time is much better spent managing the office and keeping patients happy. I went without a full salary for the past three months. Things were tight but we got through. I just took my first full paycheck this week. This has been a most interesting time. Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate wtih the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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