So, You Want to Buy a New Computer?

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

Lately, there has been a greater need to have better computers. Perhaps it’s because so many more people are working from home or more students are doing virtual education. In fact, I get asked this question at least once a week within my network of influence. In response, I have some questions to ask them: What do you want to do with it? What is the purpose? Do you want it to be portable or will it stay at the house? These are critical questions to answer for yourself. Other questions arise, too. Do you want a laptop or a desktop? Would a tablet or a Chromebook meet your needs? How much do you want to spend? Usually, the answer becomes clear just from this initial questioning.

If you are looking to work from home or you have students doing virtual school, the answer will generally be a laptop. Why? Because it’s portable, flexible and most laptops can do what you need. I’m sure you’ve seen advertisements for Chromebooks, and they’re economically priced. A Chromebook is essentially an internet-only computer where the browser is the operating systems (as opposed to a Windows or a Mac operating system). Chromebooks have their uses, primarily in educational settings, where the subset of applications are solely internet-based. If you want to install other applications that aren’t browser-based, you’re going to want a laptop.

What about a tablet? Tablets are more powerful, but they’re restricted to applications that run on the tablet (either Android or Apple IOS). You can use a tablet like a laptop, but there are obviously things a tablet cannot do. If you can accept those limitations, then a tablet might work.

Why not a desktop? Well, if you plan on seldom moving your computer and have no plans to pop down to the coffee shop with your desktop in tow, then that could work. However, most people want the flexibility to have their computer be mobile, thus, a laptop is a better choice. You also can buy accessories like dual monitors and external keyboards and mice to make your laptop have that desktop feel.

Now that I have sold you on a laptop (cha-ching!), what more do you need to know? Size matters. An 11-inch laptop and a 17-inch laptop are just that different. An 11-inch screen may be too small to see, and a 17-inch laptop may be too heavy to easily lug around. You must do what is right for you based on how you plan to use it. Go to a store where you can see them and pick them up. You don’t have to buy from there, but you can try out the look and feel.

Should you choose Windows or Mac? That question often is a matter of personal preference and money these days because Macs and PCs mostly can do the same things. A Mac is more expensive but quite honestly, requires less maintenance by the user. I bought a Mac for my wife years ago because I was tired of spending all my free time fixing her Windows PC. A PC is significantly less expensive and for some, that alone is the deciding factor.

What about all those letters and numbers and two and three letter abbreviations? Those things matter, since you’ll want a better processor. If it’s an Intel processor, they go from I3 to I9 and generally, the higher the number, the better. Same is true with RAM — 4 GB will never be enough. You need at least 8 GB of RAM, and preferably more. Your hard drive size isn’t as important as it used to be, and there’s now solid state drives (SSD) that are fast but have limited capacity. You always can add an external drive to store files, but you need to get enough hard drive space to store applications, so 256 GB is a minimum for a hard drive.

Video capabilities also matter. Laptop video cards are underwhelming, so look for one with a better video card, also measured in gigabytes of RAM.

Another factor to consider is the number and type of ports the laptop has on it. You need at least three USB ports and an HDMI port for video output capabilities. All laptops have wireless capability built in and some have a standard network jack as well. If you are concerned, look at the battery life as well.

One of my recent tricks of the trade is to buy gaming laptops for everyday use. They come with more than enough processor, RAM and video capabilities to play high-end games, but that also means they can do all that you want, too.

If you have time to make a purchase, I also recommend you get it from a reputable seller. The cheapest one on Amazon Marketplace may not be the best option for you. Google the make and model number you are interested in and see what people are saying about it. There are manufacturers I won’t buy from just because of the reported problems. You can look at back-to-school or holiday specials but often, they’re selling a lower-class PC with limitations. Caveat emptor.

I admit the options and information can be overwhelming, but remember, you will use this computer every day. We all know a computer can be the greatest source of frustration imaginable, so do your research, get what you need and revel in the joy of how much easier this purchase has made your life.


Reprinted from Today’s FDA, Sept/Oct 2020. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view the Today’s FDA archives.

Cloud Technology Lights the Way for the Future of Dentistry

By Robert McDermott, President and CEO, iCoreConnect

There’s never been a better time to leverage technology in dentistry. It’s more accessible, secure and efficient than ever before. No matter how long you’ve been in dentistry, it’s likely dental school didn’t teach much in the way of computer software and programming or offer a Master of Business Administration. Fortunately, what you need to know is simple. It’s all about integrating cloud-based software to speed up clinical workflow and enhance patient care.

Cloud-based technology and services are rapidly becoming the preferred backbone to run any business. The technology model, Software-as-a-Service or SaaS, is a term you may have heard before. SaaS is more commonly referred to as web-based, hosted or on-demand software. For example, cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, Amazon and Dropbox are all SaaS platforms and are all accessed through the internet.

Here’s why all of that is important to dentistry. Cloud-based software replaces traditional servers and hard drives located inside a dental office. Those servers require expensive maintenance and upgrades. They put patient and practice data at high risk of theft, failure or loss. Think about what happens if that server is hacked by a cybercriminal or destroyed by a busted bathroom pipe. Or, the server simply fails one day. Compromised or lost data can crush a practice.

Here are three ways technology today changes the way dentists do business.

Streamline Daily Repetitive Tasks

What are two tasks that take time and are done frequently? Most likely they include checking insurance benefits and writing a variety of prescriptions. Let’s start with insurance. When the doctor discovers a patient needs a crown, a staff member will then need to check the patient’s insurance. That patient may walk out the door without a follow-up appointment because she is waiting to find out what, if anything, she will owe out of pocket. Today, there is specialized software that checks insurance benefits immediately. Armed with the actual insurance information needed for next steps, a patient is more likely to book the appointment and show up for it. Anxiety over financial surprises is no longer lingering. The patient gets needed treatment and the practice remains financially on track.

Electronic prescribing is another big deal for better clinical workflow. Many Florida doctors implemented e-prescribing when the law went into effect in January 2020. However, dentists with expiring waivers or whose licensure renewal takes effect by July 1 will need to make the switch now. Software designed specifically for dentists to e-prescribe all medications, including controlled substances, also may offer direct access to E-FORCSE (Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program) for rapid prescription history checks of a Schedule II-V controlled substance. e-Prescribing with rapid PDMP checks makes clinical workflow faster, safer, and better for both the patient and the practice.

By simply streamlining insurance checks and the prescription process, time is given back to the day and patient care is kept on track. The next two steps add to the security, peace of mind and efficiency of running a practice.

Move Data to the Cloud

If practice data is stored in a physical server in the office and then backed up to a physical hard drive, trouble may await. Backing up to a hard drive in the office, or one that travels home with the dentist or a staff member, puts protected health information (PHI), financial information and all practice information at risk of being stolen, hacked or accidentally destroyed. The strongest protection comes from using a cloud-based backup service. PHI and all other data is backed up every time a key is clicked on the keyboard. The sensitive data lives on servers across multiple locations, protected at the highest level of cyber and physical security.

Take IT Off Your Plate

Even though you may be savvy to technology, your first love and priority is dentistry. It is prudent for a practice to engage in the services of a managed services provider (MSP). An MSP takes care of everything IT at a predictable monthly rate. An MSP team doesn’t even need to be in the same city as the practice. They can continually maintain, update, and prioritize security and compliance of the practice’s computers and secure email from anywhere. Issues are immediately mitigated or simply don’t happen. Once again, the cloud makes big business sense.

Leveraging technology at any stage of a dentist’s career is the economical, practical and proactive way to do business. The dental industry needs a fresh approach to speed up clinical workflow and make dentistry even safer and more convenient for patients while increasing security and revenue for the practice. Doing business the same way as always may be comfortable but it will keep a practice stuck at the status quo. The business of dentistry has a bright future in cloud-based technology.


iCoreConnect, an FDA Crown Savings Partner, develops cloud-based technologies to improve and protect your practice including e-prescribing, full IT/MSP services, and revenue analytics. FDA members receive special discount pricing on iCoreExchange HIPAA-compliant email and iCoreDental practice management system software. Book a no obligation demo or call 888.810.7706 to see how iCoreConnect’s products speed up workflow and increase revenue.

The Need for Speed

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

Twenty-eight years ago, I worked for Florida State University and I remember when the campus IT gurus hooked us up to something called the “backbone” of the internet. I had the fastest internet connection I’d ever seen at 1 Mbps (1 megabit per second or 1,000 Kbps [kilobits per second]). Crazy thing is, there was nothing to do on the internet back in those days. I’d go home and use an old school dial-up modem at a “blazing” 14.4 Kbps speed to look at my five AOL emails. I was jealous of the connection I had at the office. My, how the tables have turned. In 2020, I have a faster internet connection at my home than I do at the office. The internet of things (IoT) means almost everything at my house is connected to the internet. Who knew that my blender would need to be connected to the internet one day? Everything being connected to the internet (a tenet of IoT) requires a lot of speed and bandwidth to work.

This term bandwidth is like asking if the pipe is big enough for your data. In theory, more bandwidth equals more speed. Ever see the buffering delays? Yep, not enough bandwidth either coming or going. The same now applies to your office. Digital transformation has led to all things electronic: phone calls, practice management systems, cloud-based backups, X-rays or cone beam CT scans that need a lot of bandwidth to store, save or use, so you need to make sure your internet speed is sufficient for that need. That’s usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps). At the office, my personal usage is 120 Mbps while at home it’s more than 300 Mbps. How do I know these numbers? I don’t just rely on what my internet provider says I have. Neither should you.

Most internet providers have tiers of bandwidth plans. Whether at home or office, the concepts are the same. I recommend you test out your bandwidth. In a web browser on a computer that is “hardwired” (physically connected) to the internet, go to speedtest.net. Also test it with a device that uses Wi-Fi and see if it’s substantially different. You also can find speed test apps for phones and tablets, and internet providers may have their own incantation of a speed test. At home, my provider is Comcast and they insist I use their version. If the speed is substantially slower than the tier you’re paying for, there’s a problem. For instance, my tier is 300 Mbps. One day, I checked the performance and it consistently was less than 100 Mbps. Not good. I called them, and sure enough, there was an unreported issue and they fixed it.

Two years ago, I went to the Florida Dental Association’s (FDA) Governmental Affairs Office (GAO) and used their computers for a day. Their internet bandwidth was horrible. I investigated it and found that their internet provider was limited by what they could bring into that old downtown location. At one point, the internet cable was run through a gutter! Time for a change. We went to a different type of provider that uses a cable modem, so speed is no longer an issue. Problem solved. I’m sure you seldom think about the speed of your internet connection until you’ve used a faster one. It was that difference that tipped me off that something was wrong at GAO. For them it was “normal”— for me, it was unacceptable.

Here are three takeaways from this:

1. Find out what your internet speed is supposed to be.

Your provider needs to tell you the tier you should expect to be in. You’re looking for a number with Mbps behind it.

2. Test the speed over a series of days.

If you use one day, some providers will say it varies based on usage. Try off-peak times, for example, when the office is closed. If you’re info bytes not getting what you pay for, find out why. It could be the internet provider, your hardware, computer or network. You pay for it, so you deserve an explanation.

3. Buy all the bandwidth you can afford.

The need for bandwidth will keep growing and that growth will likely be exponential. We put a high-speed fiber connection here at the FDA that gives each person at least 120 Mbps, even in heavy usage. Our work is dependent on the internet now and that’s not likely to change. Why put in a two-lane dirt road when you’ll need an eight-lane superhighway soon? Every two years I go back to my home internet provider and they upgrade my bandwidth for free. This year they did it without me asking!

Bottom line: Make sure you’re getting what you pay for when it comes to internet speed.


Reprinted from Today’s FDA, March/April 2020. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.

Your Technological Legacy to Your Children and Grandchildren

By Larry Darnell, FDA Director of Information Systems

You might imagine since I am knowledgeable about technology that at least one of my three daughters might share that gift. Sadly, that is not so. It’s not because I didn’t try to make it so. I consistently provided them with above average technology (usually my hand-me-downs, but still). Often referred to as Techno Dad, I was available to answer any and all questions about technology they had. Once again, few questions arose. Perhaps technological ability skips a generation because two of my three granddaughters have picked up technology and have done things with it that I could never have dreamed about when I was 4 or 7 years old.

Every year before school starts, many law enforcement agencies put out a list of 15 or so apps you should be concerned about that your kids might be using. Google it, it’s easy to find that list. I bet you may recognize five of those. The other 10 you’ve probably never heard of at all. The list probably scares you into checking their devices just to see.

The real question is, how much are you paying attention to what your children and grandchildren are doing with the advanced technology they have at their disposal literally from birth? Do they have limits about when, where and how often they can use the technology? I’m no medical doctor, but I hear reputable people talk about the addictive effects this technology has on children. I see it with my own eyes, and I can’t help but wonder what that will mean for them as they grow older. We’ve had the opioid crisis and I’m afraid a techno crisis is coming soon.

I’m convinced I bought my teenage daughters smartphones so they could text me from their rooms 10 feet away. I know technology is not evil unto itself. It’s a tool. But like any tool, it can be misused, so you need to keep tabs on when, how and for what purpose it’s being used. I heard Simon Sinek in a video recently say, “They are children, you can take it away.” Talk about starting World War III. So, as parents or grandparents, what are we to do? Here are three things to consider.

First, set limits when the phone can be used.

There are technological solutions to this (setting up systems that permit use during certain time frames, etc.) or there is the Sinek method and just take the phone away. However, allowing children unfettered access to technology is not the best idea even if it seems to make your life easier now.

Secondly, determine where those devices can be used.

At the dinner table? Never. School? Limited usage. In their rooms overnight? NO. Teach your children and grandchildren proper use etiquette, but realize you’ll have to adhere to that, too. No “do as I say not as I do” with this stuff.

Lastly, see what they are doing on their devices.

The best way I could do that was have all the devices funneled through one account. If my kids or grandkids wanted some app, they had to ask me to get it for them. Did I track their website usage? You bet I did. I knew when and where they went on the web. I know all the bad stuff out there. I know the horror stories of people trying to get to our kids through technology. Occasionally, I physically inspect all their devices. I pay for it, so I can have access at any time. They knew this when I entrusted them with it. I’m the parent and I have the responsibility to do my best to protect them.

Our children are too precious to imagine that Google, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever is next will look out for their best interests. That’s our job, and it’s time we start doing it.


Reprinted from Today’s FDA, Jan/Feb 2021. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.