IT elements to consider when extending your practice or adding a surgery
Are you considering adding a surgery to your practice? Or reworking your reception area? Maybe adding an xray room, or an entire floor. Here's a list of 10 things you should consider from an IT point of view before you start, to ensure you don't miss anything and have to make last minute changes, or even worse, changes after the work has been completed. Not all of these will be applicable to every project, but if you consider each of them it should help you avoid planning blunders.
Get a good cabling contractor
Any new area is likely to need additional network points; running PCs off wireless only is not ideal, and most software suppliers will not support a wireless only connection for production use. And no, it's unlikely that the electrician will do a good job of the cabling - electricians are electricians, data cablers and data cablers, and I have seen some very poor network cabling work from electricians over the years. Unless you can be sure the electrician will do a good job (for example from previous work), you shouldn't risk it. The cabling is the hardest thing to change later.
Plan enough points, to the right spec
Don't just plan 1 point per station, that is never enough. Allow for points for WiFi WAPs (wireless access points), network printers, phones, network scanners, Smart TVs, PDQ (card reader) machines, and digital imaging devices where needed. Our general recommendations for dental practices are at least 2 points per surgery, and 4 points per office or reception station. If you don't have a proper server cabinet or comms cabinet, or even a patch panel, now is the time to plan to get these essential items fitted.
Think about the WiFi coverage
Highly reliable and well performing WiFi needs more than just a router under the reception desk. Good WiFi is designed using multiple distributed WAPs (wireless access points) strategically located around the building. They should ideally be ceiling mounted for the best coverage.
Plan for any AV or second monitor requirements
Second monitor setups need careful consideration; make sure you plan for the fitting of the appropriate AV cables, usually HDMI or Display Port. It is important to use high quality cables from the likes of Lindy, to ensure high reliability and the best quality images. You may wish to use touchscreen capable screens which also require USB leads, but be careful over longer distances - USB has a limited signal distance. Think about the length of lead that should be left over at each end, and how these will be made neat and tidy.
Consider AIO (all in one) computers rather than traditional tower/monitor setups
AIO computers are far more modern than the old fashioned tower setups; less cabling is needed, they can be easily wall mounted, and look aesthetically far more contemporary than the black PC box. Only rarely will a tower PC be needed, usually if a specific high end graphics card is needed. Otherwise, an AIO is generally the better choice. Consider the needs and expectation of the users - power users may benefit from a higher spec machine such as an i7 rather than a mainstream i5. If you do choose AIO computers, the positioning of network points will need to be considered; these are generally above rather than below the cabinetry in this case.
Use the opportunity to upgrade your phone system
Old phone systems are limiting in their features, and often have poor long term contracts and support, and costly call and rental charges. When undertaking any extension or refurbishment it is worth considering whether your current phone system is overdue a refresh.
Plan for the growth on your server
Depending on the nature of your project, there could be minimal impact to the load on your server, and your storage; on the other hand, especially if introducing technology such as CBCT or 3D scanning, file storage and server specification may be heavily impacted.
Don't forget the switch
The switch is the place where all your network points meet. It is possible that you may need more connections than the current switch allows for. You may want to consider replacing a 24 port switch with a 48 port one, or you may choose to take the opportunity to upgrade 100mbps to gigabit. IT is always best to just have one switch if at all possible, rather than multiple switches around the practice. Where you have to have more than one, they should ideally be managed switches, and linked together with CAT6 or fibre uplinks.
Review your Internet connectivity
More machines inevitably means more load on not just the network, but your Internet connection too. Check that you have the latest and greatest connection available in your area, for maximum reliability and bandwidth.
Get the timing right
Building works often overrun, and it is important that new and sensitive IT equipment is not installed before the environment is ready for it. If installed too early, computers can end up caked with dust and debris, and this will affect their long term performance and reliability and probably their longevity. The cabling contractor will generally work alongside the electrician at first and second fix, with the IT itself going on only when all the building work is complete. The cabler should be tasked with fitting any AV leads, and WiFi points.
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© Liam McNaughton, Dental IT ltd May 2021