Email Systems For Dental Practices
What should a dentist consider before implementing an email service?
One of the top 5 questions we are asked when providing web services for dentists, is “which type of email system should I use”. This is understandable as there are lots of options and lots of accompanying jargon out there.
Whilst email may sound mundane, it is something you need to get right so it becomes a “fire and forget” part of your daily work, i.e. something that you implement and can then trust to just work. However, experience suggests that this is often not the case, either because a dentist has chosen the wrong email service in the first place, or they’ve not really understood how to set it up and use it effectively from then on. Untangling existing email problems when we provide new services is more common than you might expect.
So what should a dentist consider when setting up email for their team? Let’s take a look at the essentials below.
Understand the main email protocols – POP and IMAP
This is an important place to start because it will define the type of dental email system you will implement.
The ‘POP’ email protocol is quite basic and is often used where email isn’t intended to be left on the remote hosting server for a long period of time. For typical applications, email is downloaded to a single machine and the storage and archiving is done there. So the remote email server essentially just serves as a portal through which emails pass in and out. Because email is stored locally, multiple machines would not be able to synchronise to access email and so there is a potential disadvantage there. However, some practices still prefer the POP protocol because they only want email managed on a specific local PC, rather than proliferated across a range of devices. Many web hosting packages will provide a few free email accounts but insist that they are used with ‘POP’. This is because the storage space allocated on the remote server would soon fill up if thousands of historical emails were stored there.
The ‘IMAP’ email protocol is different in that all mails are able to synchronise across all connected devices, so what you see on you ‘phone for example, would mirror what you see on your desktop email program. This is because the primary email storage is on the remote server which all connected devices can tap into. This is the most popular type of email as it does provide much more flexibility than POP. However, you do need a lot more remote storage space along with more robust protocols for email management, e.g. security considerations if an IMAP connected mobile device was lost or stolen.
IMAP accounts are often cost add-ons simply because of the significant extra storage space required.
Email back-ups are very important as you will likely need to refer back to historical correspondence at some point. So please keep this in mind when you are planning your overall data back-up strategy. Quite often we find that practices take rigorous copies of patient information but at the same time forget to include email in their back-up protocols. This is particularly important if you are operating POP mail with local storage.
Back-up for IMAP should still be done locally, however good remotely hosted email services should also be backing up your emails on a nightly basis. So some additional security there, but it’s well worthwhile checking what is actually being provided.
Broader security considerations
We’ve all heard stories of people’s email being hacked and unfortunately it’s still quite prevalent. Almost always, this is due to the use of insecure passwords or passwords being hacked via insecure connections. It is essential to ensure that any device accessing email is connected using secure protocols, the details of which will be available from your email provider. If you struggle to connect, get help from a dental IT expert.
In a broader context, please also check the data security credentials of your email host. For example, are the email servers housed in an ISO27001 approved, UK data centre? This is the main standard for secure data management but many “cheap” providers of hosting services do not comply.
Understanding the responsibility for managing the local connection
Something we often encounter is where a dental practice subscribes to an email service and then wrongly believes that the provider should also manage the connection at the practice side. This is unrealistic for a couple of important reasons – firstly there are many different versions of email programs and it’s unrealistic to expect the email provider to know how to configure all of them. This would typically be the task of the IT professional who looks after the local network at the dental practice. Secondly there may be local security protocols, back-ups and network configuration issues specific to the practice. Again this would the domain of the local IT professional or someone else who has experience locally.
The login credentials you will be provided with will allow you to connect any modern email program, but you may need some local assistance to ensure everything is set up correctly at the practice side.
A reliable email service is essential for any business and dentists are no exception. So it pays to evaluate carefully and use a secure, scalable and efficient system which will grow with you as the practice evolves. Don’t be tempted to skimp on a basic service simply because you were able to get a free account online, or it came free with some cheap website hosting. This will typically cause more problems than you’d imagine down the line when you need to upgrade.
Here at Dental Media we’ve been providing cost-effective, professional email services for dentists for over 20 years. If you’d like more information or simply would like to chat through some of the aspects covered above, please get in touch on 01332 672548 and we’ll be pleased to assist.Google+