Experts warn it's unwise to ignore potential problem
By Bonnie Booth
As vice president of technology for OrthoLink Physicians Corporation, a Nashville-based practice management company, you can bet Edward Bivins has a detailed strategy for addressing whether the computer systems used in the practices of the 170 orthopaedic surgeons OrthoLink manages are Year 2000 compliant.
The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem relates to any computer program that only keeps the last two digits of the year in its system, for example 98 for the year 1998. In 13 months, when the year 2000 arrives, the computer will not be able to determine the date from the last two digits of the year and could misinterpret the year 2000 to be the year 1900. Programs that aren't Y2K compliant will incorrectly schedule patient appointments, incorrectly age receivables and mistake active insurance plans for inactive insurance plans.
The steps orthopaedic practices are taking to ensure they are year 2000 compliant are as varied as the practices themselves. Like OrthoLink, many larger orthopaedic practices that have information service departments have detailed strategies for addressing the issue, but some smaller practices-especially those with relatively new software-are either assuming they are Y2K compliant or don't believe the arrival of the year 2000 is going to cause them a problem.
Ronald Sterling, head of Sterling Solutions Ltd., in Silver Springs, Md., said it is unwise to bury your head in the sand and assume your practice has no Y2K issues.
"A lot of people think they don't have a problem, but they do," said Sterling, a nationally recognized computer expert. "There are a lot of vendors who haven't done one thing to prepare for Year 2000 compliance. The question is: Does the vendor have a year 2000 compliant product? It's not true that if they bought the product two years ago that it is automatically year 2000 compliant."
At OrthoLink, Bivins and his technology team will soon be rolling out new practice management software that is Y2K compliant. The move kills two birds with one stone. It allows OrthoLink to standardize the practice management software across the practices it manages and it solves Y2K problems for those practices that will install it and start running it soon. However, Bivins said not all practices will use the new software right away.
"Some might not be able to install it now," Bivins said. "They may want to capture old accounts receivable, some may use the new software only as they take new appointments. For those practices that need to wait to install the new system, we are in the process of making sure their current vendor is Y2K compliant."
OrthoLink's Bivins and his crew are also contacting vendors to make sure that equipment in the practice offices-MRI machines, bone densitometers and any other equipment that uses computer chips-are Y2K compliant.
Brian Olive, information systems manager at Campbell Clinic, a three-location practice in Memphis, Tenn., said computer hardware and software upgrades scheduled for January should take care of any Y2K problems the clinic might otherwise have experienced.
He said upgrades to the operating system are scheduled for January 1999 and the clinic's software vendors have already released an update to their product which is allowing appointment scheduling into the year 2000. Patient records are kept on a Windows NT network, which will also be Y2K compliant with an update, he said.
"We didn't think about it (Y2K) too much since we have a Microsoft setup," Olive said. "I knew they were working toward Y2K compliance from the start."
Maurice Henry, information systems manager for the Portland Orthopaedic Clinic, in Portland, Ore., said the clinic is in the process of acquiring analysis software that checks for specific software issues and hardware rollover problems that could be created by the advent of the year 2000.