Reviews Website of the week

Booking time: finding locums and devising rotas

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 20 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:170
  1. Douglas Carnall, general practitioner
  1. London

    For the last couple of years internet gurus have been predicting the rise in the application service provider (ASP) market. One software vendor, Microsoft, has bet the future of its business on its .NET business model ( But the big software companies will not necessarily have it all their own way. One of the features of the ASP model is the relative ease with which organisations can shift providers, which means that small niche application developers who understand their business well have good opportunities to seize the initiative. The benefits of this are currently being felt by doctors who are interested in more flexible working, one of the themes of this week's BMJ's Career focus.

    Robbie Coull is a locum in the north of Scotland who has implemented the eminently sensible idea of automating the search for locums. Locums and practices register at the website ( and use email or SMS messaging to communicate. It's a very nice implementation and an estimated 50% of Scottish locums—more than 260 doctors—now use the service.

    In a similar vein is RotaDoc (, a site that enables hospital teams to devise and edit schedules online. Rota devisers use server side tools to set up the requirements of their department or hospital; users can then download rotas into their Palm PDA or Outlook desktop (or, of course, print out the relevant web page from their browser). Best of all is that the tricky chore of swaps and holidays can be negotiated between all participants in the rota, rather than increasing the communication load on the person who originally devises the rota.

    As ordinary users of the internet become accustomed to accessing and using increasingly sophisticated applications through their browsers, the physical location of the actual bits that reflect the computer logic becomes irrelevant. With a browser, users can reach into “the cloud”—an amorphous collection of servers—and impose their own order or structure upon it (

    Although the tools for doing this are currently more in the hands of systems administrators and computer departments, this is likely to change as more and more ordinary users maintain weblogs: personalised sites that link services with user comments. Most weblogs are used as a kind of personal diary at the moment, recording the single stream of an individual's consciousness with attached weblinks (URLs). But the ASP tools now emerging show that there is obvious potential for the technique to be used to help run practices and departments.

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