Equipment 
Computers

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You don’t need an IT degree to get started – but it helps

Okay, we’re exaggerating. All you really need to start out is a laptop, a printer, and your home broadband.

However, if you want to hit the ground running, you should read this article - particularly if you are setting up a home office.

Desktop, laptop, or tablet?

The first thing you’ll need is some sort of computer. Your choice of computer will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • how much you can afford
  • where it is going to be used, and whether you will need to carry it about
  • what size screen you would prefer - remember you could be staring at it for hours at a time
  • how much memory you need - will it store a lot of high resolution images, or a large database?
  • will you be doing a lot of typing, for example typing reports?

Here’s what you need to do:

  • visit your local computer store, and have a play with the different types of computer - you’ll quickly start to narrow down your options
  • once you have decided on the type of computer you want, shop around for the best price - look online and on the high street
  • make sure a warranty is included in the purchase price
  • get advice from store staff about how much memory you might need

In our opinion, the best type of computer for a private practitioner is a laptop with a screen of 15" or above. Here’s why:

  • a laptop is portable, so you can use it at home or take it to a rented consulting room
  • the screen is big enough for several hours use (if you get a desktop computer we’d recommend 17" or above)
  • a laptop has a separate keyboard, unlike a tablet, and so is more suited to typing
  • there are a wide range of laptops to suit any budget

What software do you need?

In general, you’ll need some sort of word-processing software that allows you to create documents and spreadsheets. You can buy a programme such as Microsoft Office, or download one for free such as OpenOffice. Free software can be a good place to start, but it’s reliability and the available support may not be as effective.

You could also consider Google Docs and there are a host of other useful programs and services that use the cloud - find out more in our article about cloud computing.

As your practice grows, and you start seeing more clients, you should consider accounting software or practice management software. Many practitioners rely on practice management software to help them with all aspects of their business such as accounts, appointments and marketing.

The one piece of software you can’t do without...

Anti-virus software - it’s essential. Without up-to-date anti-virus software, you could lose every document on your computer, your email could be hacked and your accounts destroyed. There are a variety of different anti-virus software providers, including Kaspersky and AVG. Your broadband provider will also usually offer an alternative. Before you decide, read online reviews and ask friends or colleagues for their recommendations.

What else do I need to buy?

You can buy a host of computer peripherals:

  • a printer is essential - make sure you check how much replacement toners will cost before you buy
  • a scanner will be useful for good document management
  • you don’t have to buy a fax machine, as emails are a good substitute, however...
  • there are many combined printer / scanner / fax machines on the market, so it’s worth looking around before you buy
  • an external hard-drive (memory stick) for backups (see below)

Back ups

You MUST make regular back ups of all the information stored on your computer. That’s client information, clinical reports and accounting records.

You should make a back up at least once a week, if not every day. A back up should be made on an external hard drive, which you should always keep in a safe place. Ideally, you should make a second back up, and ask someone you trust to keep hold of it for you in a secure place.

Regular back ups may also be a requirement of your business insurance so make sure you check with your provider.

Networking – what’s it all about?

If you work with a partner, or employ someone, and you want to share information, you will either need to set up a network or look into cloud computing.

A network allows information to be stored on a central server, and accessed on more than one computer. You may even be able to access information on your office server while elsewhere. Other equipment such as a printer can also be added to the network.

If you’ve read our article on cloud computing. but still think that you need a network, you’ll probably need to seek professional advice from an IT consultant.