PharmWeb

The Internet: A global communication tool

Antony D'Emanuele, B.Pharm Ph.D., M.R.Pharm.S., C.Chem., M.R.S.C.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacy, University of Manchester, UK.

* Abstract

* The Internet

* Using the Internet

* E-mail

* Working on remote computers

* Transferring Files

* UseNet

* Talking

* Gopher

* World Wide Web (WWW)

* Home Page

* How to get onto the Internet

* Finding information on the Internet

* Pharmacy information sources

* The future

* Reference

* Glossary

Pharmacy information sources

Several pharmacy information resources are available on the Internet and new services are emerging all the time. The majority are currently operated from academic establishments, though commercial servers are starting to appear.

A pharmacy mailing list has been established at the DeMontfort University in Leicester. The mailing list was set up to promote discussion, make announcements (including conferences, research posts and staff vacancies), enable requests for information, and for the distribution of information. The mailing list is restricted to pharmacists and workers in related fields. In order to join the mailing list an e-mail message is sent to 'pharm-request@dmu.ac.uk'. The message should include the persons name, details of place of employment, including a phone number, and a few keywords outlining areas of interest. The mailing list was designed to cover all aspects of pharmacy, however, specialist mailing lists which may cover particular aspects of pharmacy are likely to appear with time.

A pharmacy Usenet newsgroup is also in existence which is accessed world-wide. The name of the newsgroup is sci.med.pharmacy and messages are posted regularly by pharmacists and people working in related fields.

Several pharmacy departments have now established their own Gopher and Web pages designed to provide information about their own department and also other pharmacy resources. At the University of Manchester a series of Web pages were set up in December called PharmWeb. It is designed to be an information database and directory of pharmacy information resources which may be accessed by anyone on the Internet. There are presently almost 100 pages of information with more planned. Information on pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy schools around the World, pharmaceutical societies (including several FIP pages), plus much more is available. One new facility is the PharmWeb Directory, a world-wide directory of people working in pharmacy and related areas. A person may be searched for by entering keywords. PharmWeb pages will evolve so that information will be added, modified, and updated as necessary. The address of the home page is 'http://www.pharmweb.net/pharmweb/'. A powerful facility which is used on PharmWeb are forms. A form is a special Web page which enables information and feedback to be collected by the authors of the page. A page would typically consist of a series of questions with text spaces which may be filled in. There is also the facility to provide toggle buttons and menus so that the person filling a form can make a selection from a series of options. Once the form is complete the user clicks on a 'submit' button and information from the form is sent directly to the authors of the Web page. Another useful Web facility is the ability to have restricted access on certain pages. One of the links on the PharmWeb pages leads to a pharmacy department staff page. This page is only accessible to a group of users as determined by the department. These pages will contain information relevant to the department such as timetabling, information on classes, local notices etc. PharmWeb was widely advertised by means of mailing lists and notices in journals. As an indication of the demand for such a service, at the time of writing this article, PharmWeb has been accessed by almost 50 countries. Figure 2 shows the access statistics since the launch of PharmWeb. It can be seen that there are currently over 3000 requests for information per week.

statistics graph

Fig. 2 A graph showing the number of requests for information from PharmWeb since its launch in December 1994.

The future

The Internet is likely to become a part of most peoples lives. It is not uncommon to find people who work at home or travel, and who maintain contact with their office by means of the Internet. It is possible to connect a computer to a telephone or network virtually anywhere in the world and to communicate with an office at home via the Internet.

Commercialisation of the Internet is one aspect that is emerging as a major consideration. There are a number of companies that are investigating methods of exploiting the facilities available. At the moment there is virtually no control or restriction on the information available on the network, however, this may change in the future. It is already possible to shop via the Internet using a credit card and given the hypermedia capabilities of services such as the Web this is an area that will probably expand. Businesses such as banks, hotels, travel agents and shops have already set up pages which allow people to make purchases via Web pages.

The pharmacy community has not yet exploited the power and potential of the Internet. Information retrieval and dissemination are important to all aspects of pharmacy and the Internet offers a tool to assist in these tasks. It is possible to speculate on some of the areas where the Internet may have applications.

Continuing education is one area where the Internet may be utilised to distribute information and Web pages would be the ideal medium. One can even envisage the use of forms to set exams. Short questions and multiple choice questions could easily be set up on a Web page and once completed the page would be submitted to the examiner. The Global Network Academy has already been established in the USA with the long term goal of creating a fully accredited on-line university. The aim is to provide ‘lectures’ in the form of Web pages which utilise the facilities of this hypermedia facility such as sound, graphics and movie clips.

Another application may be in the distribution of information on drugs. Moderated mailing lists could be established to provide a means of rapidly posting information on new drugs, or drug alerts to doctors and pharmacists (which would be infinitely quicker than the present method). Local mailing lists may also be established which could be used as a means of rapid communication to local community pharmacists. If a pharmacist suspects that a person is attempting to obtain a forged prescription or a doctor has a prescription pad stolen, then all the local pharmacists can be notified in a matter of minutes via e-mail.

The Internet may also be used as a way of circulating questionnaires and obtaining information, using facilities such as mailing lists and Web pages. The use of forms on Web servers is a powerful method for the collection of data. The applications described above are purely speculative, however, as usage of the Internet increases new applications such as these will emerge, particularly once the facilities offered by the Internet are explored and appreciated.

Reference

1. Hahm, H., Stout, R. The Internet Yellow Pages, Osborne McGrawHill, Berkeley, CA, USA (1994).

Glossary

bps bits per second, a way of measuring the speed at which data is transmitted between computers

Client A program running on a host computer that accesses and makes use of a server

Directory A collection of files, sometimes called a folder

Ethernet A method of connecting computers to enable fast data transfer rates, typically at about 10Mbps

File A collection of data. Data may be in any form and may be a combination of text, graphics, sound, or movies

File Server A centralised machine for storing files

Host Any computer that is connected to the Internet

Internet A collection of computer networks which are connected together

ISDN A high speed digital alternative to standard analogue dial-up phone lines, typically enabling data transfer rates of up to 128Kbps

Modem A device which enables two computers to communicate over an analogue telephone line, typically at a rate of up to 19.2Kbps

Network A term that refers to computers which have been connected together

Node Any computer that is connected to the Internet

Remote Computer Another computer on the Internet

Server A program on a remote computer used to provide resources such as file storage, software, and information

TCP/IP A set of protocols used to enable different computers and networks to communicate on the Internet

Terminal A system consisting of a keyboard, monitor and mouse Computing power is provided by another computer which is networked to the terminal

URL Uniform resource locator, the address of any resource on the WWW. The resource may be a text file, an image, a movie clip, a sound file, newsgroup, or gopher object

User Person operating a computer

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