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Data backup has been a problem child of medical computing. For most doctors, it's meant copying their files every day onto tapes and taking them home. But many practices forget to do that, or do it incorrectly, or forget to replace worn-out tapes (one reason why the track record of successfully restoring a computer system from tape is notoriously spotty). And hauling around tapes-means they occasionally get lost or stolen. Did somebody say HIPAA?
In light of these risks, more and more doctors are backing up their data over the Internet using services like iDataBackup, LiveVault, and AmeriVault. The backed-up records sit pretty on a computer inside a data fortress hundreds of miles away.
Who offers it? Googling "online backup" yields a gaggle of vendors. One called IBackup won top honors in a survey article in the July issue of PC World magazine. Some phone companies and EHR vendors, such as Amazing Charts and DoctorsPartner, also offer this service.
What security features should I look for? Online backup software, which you install on your computer, should encrypt your data for Internet transmission as well as storage on the service's password-protected computers. When it comes to storage, redundancy rules. A good backup service may keep identical copies of your info on two servers at one data center, and yet another copy on a server in a second center.
A data center is more than a warehouse full of computers. The best are built in areas not prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods, and boast dual power sources, emergency generators, and armed guards.
How much storage space do I need? While starter packages are often for one gigabyte, play it safe and get 5 gigabytes, especially if you scan a lot of papers and diagnostic images. Solo internist Raja Bhat in Wilmington, NC, started using an EHR in January and reached 2.2 gigabytes using IBackup by September.
How long will an online backup take? It took Bhat several hours to copy his data to IBackup the first time, but subsequent daily backups take only 20 minutes. That's because IBackup, like its rivals, merely captures changes to a database-not the entire shebang-after the initial upload.
What's the cost? Advertised monthly fees for 5 gigabytes range from $9.95 for IBackup to $100 for DoctorsPartner, but pricing gets more complex than that. You pay more if a vendor archives copies of your data for seven years than for seven days. Frequency is another factor. Once-a-day is cheapest. But solo FP John Thompson in Nolensville, TN, backs up changes to his files every 15 minutes with LiveVault. It's a big reason why he pays $400 a month-gladly. "I consider it an insurance policy," says Thompson.
Some IT experts recommend playing it even safer by combining online backup with tape. However, you can breathe easy using a reputable online service by itself, says Syracuse, NY, computer consultant Rosemarie Nelson. "I'm not afraid of the data disappearing."