Article Date: 7/1/2002

Staying Connected
Wish you could check into your office from home? You can, and here's how.
Richard Hom, O.D., F.A.A.O.

You're at home and your heart starts to beat faster. You wonder, "When is my first appointment?" Only you can't find out because no one's at the office yet. Remote access software can help lessen all of that anxiety. Here's how.

What is remote access?

Remote access is the ability to connect to another data processing device over some kind of data communications link. Connecting computers within an office is relatively easy. A simple network of Windows-equipped computers, network interface cards (NICs), an Ethernet hub or switch and network cable is all you need.

Connecting to a network from outside of the office (or from another network segment or domain) is a different story.

Most connections, such as dial up or DSL, which originate from outside the office or from another location, are relatively undependable and the connection may fail during the session. These connections are usually 10 to 20 times slower than a connection within the local office.

Where do you start?

The easiest approach is to use remote access or remote control software. Regardless of which you choose, both easily install on your remote (home) and target (office) computers. The target computer listens for a request from either a dial-up modem or DSL/cable modem from the remote computer. It compares the security information of the caller with its security list. If there's a match, then the target computer will accept the request and make a connection.

Once you're connected, you can operate the target computer as if you were sitting down in front of it. In most cases, the remote computer doesn't need any extra software licenses because all of the computing is still being done on the target computer and none of it is happening on the remote computer. With the cost of software today, this results in a significant cost savings.

Consider alternatives

An interesting twist to the remote control approach is the service GoToMyPC, which works similarly to the traditional remote software approach. A target workstation listens for authorized remote connections that are authenticated by GoToMyPC service. The remote computer can be any computer that can load Java applets (remote control software usually works with only a single computer).

Taking it one step further

A more involved approach has the remote computer connecting to the target network via dial up or by Internet Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections. This appeals to users because the remote computer can function as a full member of the network. As such, the remote workstation's software can access and share in all of the network's resources as if it was connected to the network at the office.

The major advantage of the VPN network connection is security. The network operating system as well as the VPN access hardware/software can authenticate the remote user. Additionally, there is no requirement for a target workstation. A target workstation used in a remote software configuration may not have enough power to function also as a usable workstation. The major disadvantage is the required increased investment in hardware and software.

Enjoying the benefits

Now that you have your offices connected, how do you connect remotely? First, leave one or more of your office computers just as if you were going to stay late at night to work. Following the directions of your particular vendor's remote access software, establish a connection. When the image of the target computer appears on the remote computer, launch the office management software.

This is a great way to check your day's appointments without waiting for your staff to arrive and answer your phone. As many of you know, the office staff is busy the first 30 minutes of the day trying to prepare for the day's schedule. It's one more thing that I don't have to get anxious about.

When you're away from the office (at home or on vacation) you can connect to check daily production, current status of orders, future booked appointments, etc. If you have any questions on orders or on ophthalmic jobs, you can quickly check the order for accuracy and make clear corrections much more rapidly than you could over the phone.

Take your pick

Whether you use remote control software or a VPN network connection, the outcome is the same. Both will allow you to access your office management software for appointments, medical chart reviews or financial information.

If you're not sufficiently confident to do this yourself, consider retaining a computer consultant. In either case, once you've tried this technology, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.



Optometric Management, Issue: July 2002