David J Woods
Drug Information Consultant and Senior Teaching Fellow
School of Pharmacy
University of Otago
In previous articles I have discussed the wide availability of different types of medicines information, and how to search for it and critically appraise it. In order to keep track of information and retrieve it efficiently it is important to have good information management skills. The ability to network and share information and knowledge has never been easier, but we have yet to realise the full potential.
Bookmarks and favourites
These need to be regularly revised. Make use of the folder system to organise your files into recognisable categories. If you are travelling away from your base computer you can export your favourites to a laptop or disk and then import to the browser software at the point of use. Even better would be to create your own home page on the internet (most ISPs provide at least one page free) and upload your list of favourites or bookmarks to your page. This is a very simple and cheap way of being able to access your personal list of useful websites from anywhere.
Email discussion lists
These are very common and can be moderated or unmoderated, closed or open. Most readers will be a member of at least one. The most successful lists have a simple organisational structure with a clear and focused purpose. The members are usually working in similar roles with common interests. Examples would be a group of pharmacists involved in compounding or paediatric pharmacy. Traffic on these lists tends to be heavy, and the issues are highly relevant to all participants. In contrast, lists with a broad scope or no clear purpose tend to be almost dormant with only occasional unrelated postings. Postings are often very specific questions or requests for help, and there is often no clear indication that the request has been answered. An email discussion list could be considered as a virtual team. The complexity of a virtual team can be categorised according to the number of boundaries that the team crosses (see Table 1).(1)
This categorisation is not foolproof, and it could be argued that a very clear and focused purpose could transgress many of these boundaries. However, it may partly explain why it has been difficult so far to set up an international drug information network that functions at full potential.
Inhouse databases of previously answered questions can form a valuable resource once established. Repeating the same work is obviously inefficient, and it is frustrating when you know that the issue has been tackled previously. It is relatively easy to create a question and answer database and filing system using software such as MS Access. These can be networked across an institution. As well as the text answers you can include hyperlinks to websites, files and PubMed searches. The latter is a very useful tool, as the saved hyperlink will automatically run the search on the current Medline database if accessed in the future.
Several databases are now commercially available that can be customised for inhouse or personal use. Enabling a database for use over the internet requires a reasonable amount of IT skills, but it can be done easily by purchasing data management software such as AskSam (www.asksam.com).
International Register of Drug Information Centers (IRDIS)
This is maintained by Graeme Vernon of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA; see Resources). It lists participating drug information centres from all over the world, allowing contact to be made for country-specific enquiries such as tablet identification.
Drug information networks
In many countries Medicines Information Centres are now linked electronically so that they can share information, projects and literature abstracts. For example, in Australia the ANDIN network has been in operation for about 15 years. Its database of previously answered questions provides a valuable resource for all participating centres.
As many hours of research may go into responding to a medicines information question, it seems a logical step to be able to share this work across national and international boundaries via the internet. Again, the complexity of the virtual team comes into play, and other barriers such as responsibility, maintenance and quality assurance are also significant.
The UK Medicines Information Group (UKMI) has recently risen to the challenge and has started posting a list of peer-reviewed frequently asked questions (FAQs) on their website (see Resources).
Could we make better use of all the quality information and knowledge that our Medicines Information Centres collate daily? I am sure the answer is yes, and a great deal of research is required on how to make better use of these networking possibilities.
Pharmacists in developing countries are often in great need of quality medicines information, but to date we have made slow progress on matching demand (the questions) with supply (the answers). The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) is aware of this, and the pharmacy information section has formed a drug information working party to investigate how information and training activities can be networked more efficiently. An attractive possibility that is being considered is to invite 20–30 specialist medicines information centres worldwide to act as targets for requests specific to a designated area of expertise. The theory, yet untested, would be that many of the questions could be answered immediately from the centre’s comprehensive inhouse database. This “targeted network” would avoid “hopeful postings in the dark” and also allow valuable research to be performed on the information needs of developing countries.
A progress report will be posted on the FIP webpage (see Resources) in the next few months, and a report will be tabled at the FIP Congress in Sydney in 2003.
- Duarte DL, Snyder NT. Mastering virtual teams: strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1999. p. 10.
International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP)
International Register of Drug
Information Centers (IRDIS)
UK Medicines Information Group
63rd International Congress of FIP
4–9 Sept 2003