Education And Debate


BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 14 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1013
  1. Nicholas Lee,
  2. Andrew Millman

    A computer's usefulness is greatly enhanced if it is connected to others in a network, as this allows information and resources to be shared by all. A network can be anything from a simple link between two computers in an office to a complex installation joining thousands of computers at many sites around the world.

    In a hospital two types of networks are commonly found. The first is the local area network (LAN), which is typically used to connect the secretaries and medical staff in one department. This allows everyone to use and build up a departmental database and to use standard letter templates for correspondence (such as clinic letters and discharge summaries), which saves time and greatly facilitates audit and research.

    The second type is the wide area network (WAN), such as a hospital-wide system that connects all departments to a central computer running a patient administration system (PAS) with microwave or leased line links to outlying hospitals and clinics. Such networks are primarily designed to manage hospital activity (such as outpatient appointments, theatre lists, etc). Information about hospital activity extracted from these systems is required by purchasers and the Department of Health.

    Advantages of networking

    • Sharing of data and programs

    • Sharing of computer peripherals (such as printers, modems, CD ROMs)

    • Security

    • Email and faxing

    • Allows access to network via a telephone line

    • Cost effectiveness

    Departmental networks

    Peer to peer networks

    This is the simplest type of network and is ideal for linking a small number of computers together. The key feature of a peer to peer network is that all computers connected to it can be considered equal. Any hardware attached to one computer--such as a printer, CD ROM drive, or fax modem--can be made available to all computers on the network. Furthermore, users can, if they wish, easily share data stored on their hard discs with …

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