Originally published in the International Pharmacy Journal: 9(2):68-72 (1995)
The Internet is a world-wide network of information resources and a powerful communication tool. Information on virtually any subject may be found on the Internet and pharmacy information servers are emerging globally. In the past, access to the Internet was mainly restricted to the academic community, but now the 'digital superhighway' is also open for both business and home users. The Internet offers pharmacists a powerful tool which may be used in a number of ways, including education, the collection and retrieval of information, and the rapid and automated distribution of information to large groups of people e.g. for drug alerts or the notification of stolen prescriptions. In this article the Internet and its facilities are considered, together with the resources available to pharmacists.
The origins of the Internet can be traced to an information sharing system developed by the US Department of Defence in the early 1970s (ARPA-Net). It has since grown into the present informationrich network of world-wide computer resources encompassing virtually every significant computer user in the world. Physically, the Internet is a world-wide interconnection of computer networks linking millions of computers - and millions of people.
The Internet should not be considered solely as an information resource, but also a powerful global communication tool. There are several ways in which people may communicate over the Internet and these will be described later. It should be borne in mind that whilst retrieving information or communicating using the Internet, a connection will not be direct to the remote computer, but via several other networks and computers (known as routers) that constitute the Internet. The actual route may even change during a communication. All this is transparent however and a connection appears as if a user is directly connected to the remote computer.
A computer on the Internet is often referred to as a host (or node). Just as every house in the country has a unique telephone number and address, each host computer will have its own identifying address, which enables a user to identify and contact another remote computer anywhere in the world. The computer will have two versions of its address, a simple name, and also a numeric version, however both are unique to a particular host computer and can usually be used interchangeably. An example of a computer address is 'nessie.mcc.ac.uk'. This particular computer has the numeric address of 184.108.40.206. The address provides information on the location of the computer, type of organisation (e.g. military, educational institution, commercial organisation etc.) and name of computer (each computer on the network even has a unique name). In the above example the computer is called 'nessie' and it is located in the Manchester Computer Centre (MCC) which is an academic organisation (ac) in the UK.
Information on virtually any subject may be found on the Internet. Subject areas include science, agriculture, biology, weather, sports, news, economics, education, law, and literature to name but a few.
It is relatively easy to connect to the network, however, once connected, there are several services available for communicating and retrieving information. In the remainder of this article some of the more important services are described. Examples of software appropriate for the utilisation of each service will be mentioned. Current software for computer systems such as Macintosh and Microsoft Windows are extremely user friendly, with simple and intuitive interfaces. Most of the operations required to use the software are in the form of point and click actions using a mouse. Each of the services may be used independently, so for example, if electronic mail access was the sole requirement from the Internet then one program would provide that function.
An important concept when considering many of the services on the Internet is the client/server relationship. Information resources obtained on the Internet are obtained from other computers (remote hosts). The way information is obtained is that software on the user's computer (client program) interprets the users instructions and then sends commands to the remote computer where another program (server program) carries out the instructions sent by the user.Top of Page