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.
Apharmacy 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 'firstname.lastname@example.org'. 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.
Fig. 2 A graph showing the number of requests for information from PharmWeb since its launch in December 1994.
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.
1. Hahm, H., Stout, R. The Internet Yellow Pages, Osborne McGrawHill, Berkeley, CA, USA (1994).
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