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How to... get the best from your IT system

By now, most doctors will have overcome their 'early adopters' prejudice regarding computers and will have embraced the benefits of IT. But they will still be harnessing less than 10 per cent of their system's capabilities.

A greater understanding and use of your computer system not only provides cost/efficiency benefits but can also be entertaining. Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before you – break up your learning into bitesize chunks.

1) Throw away the instruction manual. It is intimidating and you are never going to read it anyway. Anybody who has ever owned a computer knows about the hopelessness of manuals.

2) Establish a smooth path to the technical support department of your clinical systems supplier, preferably through one or two dedicated staff via whom you can direct your inquiries in layman's terms.

3) Delegate staff to be proficient in specific areas – for example, Choose and Book.

4) If you are already familiar with the main functions/screens on your clinical system, try to find out about other, less apparent areas. As a rule, programs are written to help the user in some way, so it is generally worthwhile exploring them.

5) Set yourself a task of picking up something new every month. Share that knowledge with others – after all that's how neural networks and artificial intelligence works! As Dr Couch says in the article opposite, pooling your knowledge always helps.

6) Play around with non-medical software such as Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets and graphs have a variety of uses. PowerPoint slide presentations are intuitive to learn, fun to use and really add spice to practice meetings.

7) Ensure you have internet access on your desktop and start collecting 'favourites' in your search box. Broadband access has made the looking up and downloading of points of medical interest almost instantaneous.

8) Communicate via e-mail. It really is more efficient if you need to talk to more than one person or if you know that the person in question – such as a hospital consultant – is difficult to get hold of on the phone.

In summary, cuddle your computer. It will more than repay your affection!

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