Users should first define what functions or tasks computers will be used for, identify appropriate software for those functions, and then select hardware that is capable of using the software efficiently.
A computerization process is easier when -
- Efficient manual procedures exist
- Staff members are capable of, and interested in, learning to use computers
- Funds have been allocated for training, maintenance, and equipment upgrades
- A reliable power supply exists
Pharmaceutical management programs should usually begin with basic word processing and spreadsheet applications. Users can then gain experience and develop support systems for supplies, repairs, and security. Specialized pharmaceutical management programs are often used for quantification of pharmaceutical requirements, procurement, inventory management, or medicine-use analysis.
Medicine information is increasingly available through electronic communications systems. Most pharmaceutical supply systems have access to Internet communications. Two main options are available: e-mail and World Wide Web browsers. Use of the Internet for international communications has become increasingly important. Central to most pharmaceutical management applications is a product master file, including product name, strength, dosage form, therapeutic category, route of administration, and packaging. A coding system with a unique identifier for each drug product must be developed.
Personal computers, or PCs, can be used in all aspects of the pharmaceutical management cycle. Hardware refers to the computer’s electronic and mechanical parts, which include -
- A microprocessor chip
- Memory chips (RAM, for random-access memory)
- Input devices (keyboard, flash drive, mouse, scanner)
- Storage devices (hard disk drive, CD-ROM, magnetic tape)
- Output and peripheral devices (monitor, printer, modem, network card, speakers)
Software refers to instructions that can be understood and executed by the computer. Categories include -
- The operating system, which coordinates and directs information for the microprocessor
- General-purpose software, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and database management software
- Special-purpose software, such as presentation graphics, project management, and accounting software
- Utility programs, such as antivirus, file backup, and data recovery programs
- Specialized pharmaceutical management software, often a custom-programmed database application
When used effectively, computer systems save money, promote efficiency, and improve the quality of services. However, poorly conceived or implemented computer systems waste money, decrease efficiency, and distract attention from other management improvements.
This chapter discusses the uses of computers in pharmaceutical management and examines special issues in computerizing pharmaceutical management information. It also includes specifications for computer applications in pharmaceutical management, considerations for hardware selection, and requirements for maintaining and supporting computers. Preparing data for computerization is discussed, along with coding systems and definitions of units. This chapter focuses on personal computers because they are the most widely used by essential medicines programs. Instructing users in particular software programs or making recommendations for the purchase of a specific piece of hardware or software is beyond the scope of this chapter.
The question today is usually not whether but rather how and how much to computerize. Even more important, however, is how to computerize efficiently. This chapter provides guidelines to help decision makers computerize their operations effectively.