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Saving time with combined microcomputer applications.


A microcomputer helped in the selection and installation of a replacement laboratory information system (LIS) at our 626-bed hospital.[1] As manager of the LIS project, I used time-saving applications from different microcomputer programs to produce information and reports about the LIS.

Our IBM PC XT has software for word processing (IBM Display Write), electronic spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3), database management (dBase III), and communication (PC-Talk, in the public domain). A single program providing all of these functions would be expensive and probably inferior in one area or another. Instead we relied on ways to combine the separate applications and take advantage of the best features of each program.

To accomplish this, you need programs that will create disk files the other programs can read, and that in turn can read disk files the other programs create. Since every program performs these functions differently, users have to consult instruction manuals for the steps to follow.

Another useful, labor-saving feature is the ability of an application program to summarize a number of repetitive commands in a few keystrokes (the strokes are sometimes called a macro). The quickly typed macro takes the place of the full array of commands each time a set of microcomputer functions is to be performed.

Using the word processing program, I wrote, edited, formatted, and printed a request for proposal for the replacement laboratory information system. Most of it was in checklist form: We listed each LIS feature that we desired--such as "allows user to return to the beginning menu screen without going through previous menus"--and vendors indicated whether they offered it.

We sought an objective numeric means of comparing the responses from LIS vendors. Our Lotus 1-2-3 software lent itself best to this purpose, but we did not want to retype the entire checklist questionnaire into the spreadsheet program.

The answer was our first attempt at combining microcomputer applications. We edited and reformatted the RFP on the word processing program, leaving only the checklist questions. The microcomputer then placed the new document onto a disk file in a format that could be read by the spreadsheet program.

To compare vendor responses on the spreadsheet, we scored what they said about the LIS features that we desired. These features were grouped under such categories as screens and reports, communication, result entry, and patient reports.

Vendors received a score of 5 if a feature was part of their current system, 3 if the feature was available with modification, 1 if the feature was not yet available, and 0 if the feature was not feasible (see the vendor comparison on screens and reports in Figure I). To get a weighted vendor value for each feature, we multiplied the vendor score by the priority we placed on the feature. The priorities were scaled 5, 3, and 1, running from the most to the least important.

A summary line at the bottom showed total vendor scores as well as a score for our current system. We finally chose vendor C, the one with the highest weighted score in Figure I, as our LIS supplier. Of course, the evaluation was based on many more factors than those listed in Figure I.

To have the vendor input basic test information into the replacement LIS, we had to provide forms describing each of our laboratory's procedures. The current system had no way to generate this information in a usable format, and we did not look forward to the prospect of manually transcribing the data.

It was time to try a second combination of microcomputer applications. I hooked up the microcomputer as a "dumb" terminal or monitor for our current LIS. The communication program used for this hookup was able to create a disk file of terminal output (screen displays). As the test information function of the LIS displayed the name of each test on the terminal, and descriptive details below, I had the data automatically written to a disk file.

Now I turned to the spreadsheet program, which read the file created through the communication program. Through use of Lotus 1-2-3's macro function, the data were manipulated from a vertical listing into a horizontal format across the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet file could be edited if we wanted to add information. The Lotus program also allowed for other kinds of data manipulation, such as sorting to check for duplicate entries and arrangement of test information by laboratory section. The printout was an acceptable substitute for the forms needed by the vendor.

Both of these examples of combined microcomputer applications--automatic preparation of a checklist to score vendors and automatic compilation of test information--were great time savers for our laboratory. [Figure 1 Omitted]

[1]Scheele, K. Strategic planning in selection of a lab information system. MLO 20(7):91-93, July 1988.

Kathleen Scheele, formerly computer coordinator in the laboratory at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, Phoenix, Ariz., is now the hospital's contract services coordinator.
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Title Annotation:Clinical Laboratory Reference 1989
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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