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The advantage of buying rather than writing software.

A great many of the microcomputer applications in the clinical laboratory--including workload recording, quality control, staffing plans, budgets, statistical summaries, and basic test reporting--can be easily handled by commercial general purpose software adapted to each specific task. Writing your own programs from sratch is often unnecessary and less cost-effective.

I have been a programmer for more than 20 years, have served as director of a large Public Health Service computer center, and currently act as a consultant on microcomputers. Before I became familiar with such general purpose software as spreadsheets or financial planning models (VisiCalc or Lotus 1-2-3, for example), I wrote a programin BASIC for the Apple II to perform workload recording, using calculations like thos described in a March 1984 MLO article ("Workload Recording by Microcomputer").

I now believe, however, that similar calculations can performed faster and more efficiently with commercial general purpose programs. In a recent series of articles, 1-4.sup.I described several applications of microcomputers and touched on the major advantages of using software that integrates data base management, spreadsheet functions, and graphics. Let me enumerate the advantages:

1. Data can easily be stored, either in the data base or the spreadsheet.

2. Data entry is simpler, faster, and less error-prone.

3. Corrections of erroneous data entries and of subsequent calculations are faster. Typically, a single command automatically corrects an error and calculations based on that error wherever they appear in a document.

4. The specific program that needs to be written, in order to adaprt the software to a certain application, will usually take one-tenth or less the time it takes to write a similar program in BASIC.

5. Modifications to that program are not difficult to make, and almost anyone can accomplish them. With a BASIC program, modifications are frequently a job left to the original programmer; others will have a hard time attempting changes.

6. Graphics' can be easily created from tablets or a data base.

7. A variety of report may be generated, and the report formats may be changed whenever the lab feels it's necessary to do so.

8. Training and learning time are reduced because only a few fundamental programs are involved. Spreadsheet software commonly requires 20 to 40 hours to learn. From that point, writing an application is only a matter of a few hours, and even inexperienced users can they carry it out.

9. The finished product has fewer errors and is better looking.

There are now many integrated programs available for most popular microcomputers. When word processing is combined with a spreadsheet program, individual reports may be prepared, complete with tables. True, some interpretive reports may call for more extensive analysis of data than spreadsheet software is capable of. In such cases, the laboratory will have to buy special purpose software or write its own program.

In summary, the cost of purchasing a set of integrated programs is more than offset by the savings in time and money that would otherwise be spent to program in BASIC. It is also much less complicated to work with a few general purpose programs adapted to specific applications than it is to maintain completely separate programs for each and every application.

As a general rule, programming in BASIC is essentially a thing of the past for administrative applications. BASIC is appropriate only when none of the existing general purpose software will do the job--a rare situation for most administrative tasks in a clinical laboratory.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Siguel, Eduardo N.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1984
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