Thursday, October 13, 2016

IT Is an Ongoing Investment, Not a One-Time Cost

By: Ryan McGinty
President / CEO at OCERIS, Inc.

With the increased adoption of electronic health records, IT has become an integral part of most medical offices. However, it is not always an integral part of the annual budget. Even the most modest office needs to be prepared financially for typical upgrade cycles. Without a dedicated IT support company, these upgrade cycles may seem like a mystery. Meanwhile, overzealous hardware salespeople can encourage a more aggressive upgrade schedule than actually needed. So what is the perfect balance between getting the maximum lifespan of a device and replacing it before it fails? Here are some general guidelines:


The most important part of any IT setup, servers should always be given priority in a budget. In healthcare, uptime is critical. Even if EHR or practice management software is hosted in the cloud, an onsite server can be an important piece of the IT puzzle. Servers generally should be replaced between three to five years in age. Even if the server manufacturer offers extended support contracts, the risk of component failure becomes a real problem past five years. As a server ages, the possibility that some worn out parts won’t have an available replacement also becomes an issue. Replacing early while the original server is still working well is optimal.


While not mission critical, having an important desktop fail can be an unwelcome surprise. Desktops also should follow the three to five year recommendation, the same as servers, but it can be more of a sliding scale depending on the importance of the machine. For instance, if a desktop is used as the sole way to do transcription, it would be best to proactively replace the system as it approaches the three year mark, rather than wait for it to fail at an inopportune time. It will also give time to ensure that any proprietary hardware interfaces (for example, transcription equipment, lab equipment, etc.) work with the replacement hardware and deal with any incompatibilities as time permits.


Laptops lifespans are typically shorter than desktops, primarily because of two things. First, laptops are moved around, dropped, and generally put through more rigorous physical paces. Second, they have batteries. Batteries, depending on how they are used and charged, can last anywhere from two to five years, but typically do not last more than three years under normal business usage. The ability to replace the main battery varies wildly between vendors and models. Even if the battery is easily replaced, the cost of replacement may be prohibitive and that money better applied towards replacing the entire laptop.


Because of the variety and varying lifespans of peripherals, the replacement interval should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Weigh the importance of the peripheral against the replacement cost if there is evidence it is starting to wear out. More expensive devices, such as enterprise class printers, may be repairable while less expensive versions, such as small office printers, are cheaper to replace than repair.

IT is sometimes an afterthought when planning the small business budget - at least until things start failing and the replacement costs, as well as inconveniences, start to pile up. Knowing the probable lifespans of your devices can help you determine a proactive replacement schedule to divide the cost up over time - and minimize the chance of failures before they happen.

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