Solving Central Service Concerns Using the Computer
Stephen M. Kovach, BS,CSPDT
Computers and the Internet are changing daily. We see e-mail and Web page addresses everyplace we go. Computers of all types and models are on sale everywhere. The type of computer we use plays a role in how we accomplish day-to-day work as well as how we navigate the Internet. All this allows us to communicate better than in the past and to share information with each other in new and different ways.
The computer has, indeed, revolutionized our work in Central Service (CS). It is used for word-processing, spreadsheets, financial management, and for communication over the Internet. It is also used for self-study and record keeping of staff education, to control product inventory, and track instruments. It interfaces with the sterilizers and the data stored within them. In essence, it is helping us to be more productive and move to a paperless work environment.
Most of us have Information System Departments (ISD) in our hospital work settings that service the type of computer we use and everything that goes with it from the printer to the size of the hard drive. Regardless, understanding how the computer works can be an asset in our work place as it helps us gain information and share it with others. It is easier to use a computer when you understand its basic components.
What makes a computer work?
What makes your computer work and allows you to do all of these wonderful things? First is the central processing unit (CPU)--the engine of your computer. This is where all the calculations are located that allow your computer to function. Think of the processor as the engine in your car. An eight-cyclinder engine is more powerful than a four-cylinder engine. Similarly, the more processor power, the faster your computer can go. You can have many variations of a CPU just as you have of an eight-cylinder engine. For example, you can have a slower, lower power Pentium II versus a faster, higher power Pentium III.
Next is megahertz (MHz)--the clock speed of your computer processor chip. This is the "horsepower of the chip"--a 133 MHz, 500 MHz, etc. The number refers to the speed at which your computer completes tasks. One megahertz is equal to one million cycles per second. The higher the number, the faster the computer chip, the faster your computer Just like an engine, the more horsepower, the faster it can go.
Processor type refers to the maker or the brand of the chip. The most popular type is Intel. Other companies that make processors include Cyris and AMD. Think of this as the Ford, Chrysler, or GM brand in your car; we all have personal preferences over the make and type. The same applies to the computer and all of its components.
The cache is the temporary holding area for the most recently accessed information and information which is most likely to be needed next. The more available cache you have, the faster your computer. The cache allows the processor to operate faster. The size of the cache is measured in kilobytes (or K), the more cache you have, the faster your computer will run. For example, 512K will run faster than 256K.
Random access memory (RAM) is one of the most critical components for the usefulness of your computer. The more RAM, the larger the program you can run. RAM is measured in megabytes (Mb, i.e., 16Mb, 32Mb, etc.). When you purchase a computer, it is important to find out how much additional RAM you can add in the future. Keep in mind that the newer programs require more RAM. If you don't have enough RAM, you can't use that particular program. (On most computers, you can add more RAM at a later date.)
With video becoming a bigger part in the modern day computer, video RAM is now important. Similar to RAM, the video RAM allows you to use larger, multi-media programs with fewer slow downs. Video RAM will help process images on your computer. It is recommended to have at least two megabytes.
The hard drive is like your garage. This is the internal data storage device of the computer. Everything you create--from letters to financial information--is stored along with all your computer programs such as Windows 98. Like our garage, once it's full, nothing else can be stored or saved onto the computer. The hard drive is measured in megabytes (Mb or Meg) or gigabytes (Gb or Gig). Gigabytes are equal to 1,000 megabytes.
We have many other ways of dealing with the storage of information from floppy disc drive, zip drives, and tape drives, to CD-ROM drives and writers. All of these offer different options in storing information. Each one has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. The user needs to understand what they want to use their computer for and choose the best option for them.
The same applies for monitors, printers, and scanners. It is more of a personal preference on the size and type based on the work the person wants to do. Information on these products is available by looking at www.cnet.com.
The modem allows the user to connect with others over the Internet. It is the peripheral that allows you to transfer data through the telephone lines to other sources such as computers or faxes. The modem speed is measured in Baud rates (KBPS). The standard modem is 56 KBPS (56,000 bits per second). The higher the Baud rate, the faster the modem. The modem transfers the information by outputting an electrical signal over the telephone lines to another modem. The receiving modem then converts the electrical signal so that the information can be read. Businesses use other means of transporting data--such as the T1/T3 point-to-point and ISDN lines because they usually provide a faster method of transferring data/information. However, currently the modem is the choice for most people.
History of the Internet and the Web
Many people believe that the Internet is the best free thing the government has ever done for its constituents. In fact, the Internet traces its roots back to many of the Cold War think tanks. The Department of Defense developed it in the creation of the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPANET). It grew from a single experimental network in the 1960s serving a dozen sites in the United States, to an ever-spanning network system linking millions of computers today. Originally, the Internet was a text-only driven system, that is, only words and data were sent. It was this research and advance technology that allowed computers to be interconnected, first by various university and defense sites eventually to what we have today. Thus, the Internet is the interlinking of various networks all over the world.
The world wide web (www) was invented in 1989 at the European Particle Physics Lab in Geneva by a British researcher, Tim Berners-Lee. He invented the hypertext transport protocol (http) enabling the Web browser to communicate with web servers. He also invented hypertext markup language (HTML), the language in which Web pages are written and the uniform resource locators (URL), codes used to identify web pages and other information on the net. Berners-Lee envisioned the Web as an easy way to obtain information. By creating the www, he gave the Internet the ability to send pictures, graphs, almost anything, and share them with whomever we want.
The Internet, is a global network of networks, a collection of all types of computers spread across the continents. The Web can be used as the world's biggest library, packed with millions of books and reference material on every subject imaginable all tossed onto shelves in no particular order. The www is an easy-to-use graphical system for navigation on the Internet and displaying documents online. The Web makes the Internet accessible to the average person.
The www consists of thousands of unique electronic sites created by organizations, companies or individuals. Visiting them requires a Web browser. The most popular browsers are Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. To get to a specific site, you simply open your browser and type in its unique address. For example, if you want information about a specific product from a company, type in the following address; http://www.companyname.com, and press find or send and the homepage would appear on the screen.
A Web page or site consists of one or more pages of text and pictures similar to a magazine page. What makes the www unique is that much of the text is hyperlinked. You can click on certain words or phrases and then be whisked to another page containing information related to what you want. You can leapfrog from page to page or surf the Web to find the information you need.
From the example, it appears that using the www is very simple. But because it has countless numbers of homepages or files it may be necessary to search for a homepage address, topic, or subject to find information. There are two ways of doing this type of search. The first is by using search directories. This offers manually created subject guides to some of the home pages listed. Examples of search directories are Magellan at www.mckinley.com or Michigan Electron Library at http://www.mel.lin.mi.us or Yahoo at http://www.yahoo.com.
The next way to search is by using a search engine. These use robots or crawlers to find and add new home pages to their database. Examples of engines are Altavista at http://www.altavista.digital.com, and Excite at http://www.excite.com.
Whether using a search directory or engine, it is very important to follow each one's directions on searching because they all have rules, which can make your search go smoothly and quickly. By following the simple directions, you can reduce frustration and make better use of your time.
You've Got Mail
The number one use of the Internet and www is electronic mail or e-mail. E-mail is used for anything you might use for paper mail, such as faxes, or special delivery of documents. E-mail is set up just like a regular mail address. It has the user name then the @ domain name which would look like this: firstname.lastname@example.org. This will enable a computer to send the e-mail message directly to that mail box, just like getting a letter at your own home. The advantage of e-mail over regular mail is that it is almost instantaneous. E-mail can also have an attachment to it, ranging from letters, spreadsheets, video pictures to sound. It is an inexpensive way to communicate with people who also have an e-mail address, and it offers a permanent record of correspondence for both the sender and receiver.
Chatting is also becoming popular. Chatting is talking, or typing live, to other network users from all parts of the world in real time. People in chat rooms are usually specific on the topic room or the area of discussion taking place. The Michigan Society for Central Service Professionals has a monthly chat session. You can talk about CS and other related issues by looking at their Web page at http://mshcsp.org.
To do all of these wonderful things, you will need a computer, modem, phone connection, and an Internet service provider (ISP). Common ISPs are AOL, CompuServe, and Microsoft Network.
Practical Applications for Central Service
Central Service and materials management use the Internet daily to solve problems and share ideas. For example, e-mail is used to answer questions about any topic concerning CS. Three sites you may want to explore are: The Central Service Forum homepage at www.rust.net/smk, the Missouri CS homepage at www.mahcsp.org, or the European Web page at www.europe.org.
There are Web pages for everything in the medical field. In fact, both of the professional groups and many state societies have them. They use these Web pages to communicate with their members on a variety of topics. In addition, some sites, such as the Michigan site www.mshcsp.org and the Infection Control Education Institute site of Infection Control Today (www.iceinstitute.com) offer in-service CEUs.
The Web sites are a great way to communicate information. A newer Web page is icanprevent located at www.icanprevent.com. This site requires a subscription, and offers a comprehensive knowledge base for information regarding all aspects of infection prevention, control, and treatment. Each day new Web sites become available for healthcare workers to use in our jobs. At the end of this article is a list of popular web sites for easy reference.
In addition to the powerful use of the Internet to obtain information, the computer can be used to help hospital departments in other ways. The latest application is called a computer tractability system. This is a set of computer applications specifically designed to record the work processes in the CS department step-by-step. Several major companies have different variations of these systems that cannot only benefit CS, but operating rooms (ORs) and Materials Management.
A computerized tractability system offers many advantages versus more manual methods. It enhances record keeping plus frees up additional time to concentrate on your workload. In addition, it aids in maintaining accurate instrument set location and tracking, enhances technical information and identification of sets with items that have been sent for repair. Plus, it improves the planning process for materials requirements, ensures good manufacturing practices and assists in compliance to ISO 9002 standards. It also improves documentation, provides pre-printed instrument lists and instrument set labels, recalls expired items and links individual accountability into a sterilization record system. Similar to FedEx's state-of-the-art tracking system, the ability exists to locate and track any item wherever it is at in the system.
However, a computerized tractability system may have some drawbacks. For example, considerable time may be consumed with the initial data entry and there may be a loss of production time during installation. In addition, it is necessary to have good technical support. You may consider having a dedicated employee maintaining the system. Plus, the system requires monthly maintenance and the possibility of system upgrades with increased costs. A word of advice, if you are considering one of these systems, make sure you assemble a team to help in the selection process and conduct a site visit where someone is already using the system. The ramification of a system, good or bad, can be far reaching. You want as much facility input as possible and the benefit of someone else's experience with the system.
Finally, a word of caution. We must remember that with the increase of personal computers, there also has been a surge in chronic hand, wrist, back, neck, and shoulder pain. Make sure you adjust your workstation to fit your needs. Experts recommend an egg timer, stopwatch, or software to remind you to get up and stretch. Some experts suggest that you take a break from the computer at least every hour and perform hand exercises. Examples include placing your hands in a praying position, squeezing them together for 10 seconds, then pointing them downward and squeezing them another 10 seconds. The point is you want to benefit from your computer intellectually without pain.
Understanding a computer, allows us to better communicate with our peers, share information, and improve the quality of patient care.
Stephen M. Kovach has been in the medical field for more than 24 years as a technician manager, consultant, and sales representative. He has written a variety of articles concerning healthcare topics. He is an instructor at Macomb Community College teaching central service fundamentals. Stephen is also chairman of the IAHCSMM Web site and can be reached at email@example.com
- To define the various components of a computer.
- To understand the history of the Interent and the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW).
- To define key terms associated with the Internet and how to search on the Internet.
- To understand how computers and the Internet can be a source of help and technical information in the work place.
- The Interent was first used by universities and the Department of Defense to share information in the 1960s.
- The Hard Drive is like your garage, it stores information on your computer.
- Tim Bernes-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web (WWW).
- The modem is the main peripheral component needed to make sure a computer can gain access to the Internet.
- The smaller amount of RAM your computer has the better your computer will run.
- A search engine like Altavista uses robots or crawlers to find and add new homepages to their database.
- E-mail is the number one use of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
- ICANPREVENT is a new subscription Web page that helps health care professionals in finding information dealing with all aspects of infection prevention, control, and treatment.
- When purchasing a computer tractability system, it is best not to involve others in the selection process.
- When working on a computer for any length of time, it is important to get up and stretch at various time intervals.
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