Emmott On Technology: Upgrade Ahead of the Windows XP Expiration Date

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Emmott On Technology: Upgrade Ahead of the Windows XP Expiration Date

If you are still using Windows XP on your dental office work stations raise your hand. Don’t be shy. Raise your hand and look around. You are not alone; about half of US dentists are using XP.

But that the truth is you all need to stop using it.

Why? If half your colleagues are on XP and it still runs your computers then why worry? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Microsoft has announced it will cease all support for XP—including security updates—on April 8, 2014. That does not mean your computer might stop working immediately, but cyberspace is filled with bad guys just waiting to pounce on your defenseless machines.

Paul Myer, a Microsoft Product Specialist, had this to say, “We know that the first six to twelve months after support for Windows XP ends, it will be ripe for hackers. We also know several international hacking groups have already developed exploits they plan to release when support ends.”

Dental professionals have a legal and an ethical obligation to protect patient’s personal information. This includes PHI (Protected Health Information), and personal information such as name, address and social security numbers. If you continue using XP, your data will be at risk.

In 2009 the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) act was passed. It significantly strengthened many aspects of HIPAA’s security rules, with mandatory financial penalties for violations. The fines and penalties are intended to be punitive with per file fines from $100 to $50,000 for each violation. HIPAA calls for dentists to establish “reasonable” procedures to ensure data safety. They do not define “reasonable” but it is safe to assume that any office that continued to use XP after the cutoff date would be de facto below the standard.

XP was replaced by Windows 7 in 2009 which was replaced by Windows 8 in October of 2012. If the goal is to upgrade XP to the latest and greatest shouldn’t you just skip Windows 7 and install Windows 8?

Sorry it doesn’t work that way. It should but it doesn’t.

Windows 8 is designed to work with touch screens especially tablets and it does so quite well. The difficulty is that most legacy dental applications—the things you use every day such as practice management software and digital radiography—have not been upgraded to work properly with Windows 8. So for now dentists should upgrade from XP to 7.

Can you just buy a copy of Windows 7 and install it on your older machines running XP?

Technically you can, but it is probably not a good idea. The basic Operating System (OS) upgrade from XP to 7 is often difficult and involves not just the OS but system drivers for everything from your mouse to your radiography sensors. Chances are there will be a great deal of work getting your XP machine to operate and run your dental programs using Windows 7.

Any machine you have running XP was probably put in service before 2009. It is at least four years old and likely much older. It is good policy to replace computer workstations every three to four years, so chances are your XP machines are already well beyond there “sell by” date. So installing Windows 7 yourself or hiring an IT guy to do it for you is likely to be a time consuming expensive process that amounts to upgrading a computer that needs to be replaced anyway.

What should you do?

Buy new computer work stations. Technology is simply a cost of doing business in the modern age. New computers will be optimally configured to use Windows 7 and come with the OS and drivers pre-installed. A new clean install of your dental applications will run better with fewer glitches.

Plan on spending around $800-1,000 for each new clinical workstation (not including a monitor and labor). Discuss your situation with your business or tax advisor and plan on replacing as many machines as you can between now and the end of the year to take advantage of possible tax incentives. Then budget enough to replace any remaining machines in the first quarter of next year.

Windows XP served dentistry well for many years but it is time to move on. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

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