You are here: Home
Scroll to the end of this page for the latest on my attempt to escape the clutches of Microsoft...
If you have visited this site before, you may be wondering where all the stuff about ICT support for schools has gone. It has gone, because I’ve had to accept that I’ve been out of the field too long to be able to offer credible curriculum support - the curriculum and the mechanisms for its delivery have changed too radically. As of February 2008, I stopped offering free hosting for school websites at www.webschools.org.uk - this address will now point to the site you’re looking at now until the domain registration expires.
I am currently busy tidying up the 1&1 Professional package that hosts all my web activity in preparation for passing the whole lot on to another organisation.
My take on word-processing in the classroom (1993)
The one exception to my withdrawal from education support is a piece of work I did which has apparently stood the test of time as a handout on word-processing in the classroom. When I rebuilt this site I inadvertently deleted it, and I received an email from Acacia J. Dixon, Southeast Region Instructional Technology Consultant, Technology Planning and Support, North Carolina Department. of Public Instruction, USA, saying that it was still valued by the teachers she worked with. So I have reinstated it here.
This is a service which I designed specifically for small firms offering professional services - solicitors, accountant, estate agents, surveyors, doctors, therapists etc. It changed radically when I developed a Site Management System aimed mainly at GP practices, allowing clients to set up, develop and manage their own sites and only coming to me for support if they run into trouble.
This is a brief explanation of the package. Those more interested in knowing in detail how the system works for both clients and the package administrator, including some explanation of the underlying technology, can find a personal, slightly whimsical and much fuller account in How Sites4Doctors works.
If, when you’ve read all this stuff, you think you could take over and develop the package, please use the ’Contact me’ button to get in touch. I’d love to see a fresher, younger mind give the whole thing a technical and style overhaul, and then start marketing it more aggressively than I’m prepared to do. I’m convinced that Sites4Doctors is the only true GP website package on the market. As I’ve said elsewhere, the others are mostly bog-standard DreamWeaver-type sites that someone has just decided to try selling to GPs.
Sites4Doctors was launched on the 1 July 2004 as a specialist website package for GPs under the Sites4Professionals brand. Informed by over three years developing and managing sites for NHS primary care, with a host of features designed specifically for the GP market, this is a powerful Site Management System based on the best Web software running under the Linux operating system. Why not Windows and all Microsoft’s whizzy technology? Quite simply because more than three years’ experience at the NHS, managing websites and intranets running exclusively on Microsoft products, convinced me that under no circumstance should I ever again host a site on a Windows server, using Microsoft’s Active Server pages, VBscript scripting and SQL Server - or their successor systems.
The structure of the package was based on a content-management system that had been developed in the NHS before my arrival, which worked reasonably for intranets but in three years could never be made to work over the Internet! I designed and wrote the entire shell of the SMS, but it seemed sensible to buy in a web-page editor and a site search engine from specialists. The Editize WYSIWYG page editor (a Java application that sits in a web-form text box) and the ZoomSearch site search engine were bought on licence from some very clever specialist programmers, and have worked flawlessly since mid-2004.
Another legacy of my time with the NHS is the very high standard of accessibility for patients with special needs - something that was at the top of my priority list when developing sites for the NHS. This is something which no other GP website package can offer.
The idea was to allow practices to develop and maintain their own sites with the minimum of intervention from me.
Anyone interested can set up a site in minutes by completing a short and simple web form - the work of a couple of minutes. When this is submitte the web server creates a complete new site automatically in a few seconds, displays a confirming page and sends a confirming email to the person doing the setup. This includes a temporary address for the new site, a link to the Site Management System and the necessary login ID and password to allow site-editing to begin. This email is copied to me and I also get another one containing all the information submitted on the setup form.
At this point, I visit my web-hosting provider’s website to register the first available domain name from the client’s list of preferences. This takes no more than a couple of minutes. An hour or so later I start regular checks to see if the resulting web-address has been activated, and as soon as it is - usually in four hours or less - I send a welcoming email manually, which allows a bit of the personal touch, with a link to the permanent site address. Then I sit back and await phone-calls or emails for support. In most cases I wait quite a long time, because the SMS really is very easy to use and has plenty of online help.
The system allows all core data about the practice, its premises and its people to be entered on three more simple forms. This is then displayed automatically on pre-formatted web pages, ensuring that the information the patients really need is available quickly and clearly - though clients can disable any parts of this and present the information on their own web pages if they prefer. Few do. More than three years being responsible for all Southern Derbyshire?s GP, dentist, pharmacy and optician data on the NHS’s national website - www.nhs.uk - gave me the knowhow to optimisen a database to organise all the GP practice information and clear pages to display it.
So a practice site can be set up, and all key patient information published, in an hour or two, depending on the size of the practice. How much IT expertise does it take? Anyone who can create a Word document and shop on Amazon has more than enough.
From there on, practices can do as much or as little as they wish. The SMS allows them to create a structure of virtual folders and sub-folders, each of which generates a link on the site’s button-bar. Within each folder, they can create web pages or publish documents uploaded from their local computers. They can also upload images to be added to their web pages. Any page can be made the home page for the folder in which it sits (the one users see when they click the folder’s button) just by clicking a link. Pages and documents can also be deleted via a link or moved into different folders. Organisations other than GP practices which publish large numbers of documents - the Newcastle and North Tyneside Local Medical Committee site was a fairly extreme example - can build huge libraries very easily, because if they don’t create a home page for a folder the system will make one ’on the fly’ whenever the folder’s button is clicked, displaying links to all the pages and documents in the folder (sorted either by date, oldest or newest first, or alphabetically) - and users can even enter introductory text to be displayed above the links.
The Local Medical Committees’ input on GPs’ needs was invaluable, as was that of some very helpful practices, particularly Charnwood Surgery in Derby. Since 2004, responding to feedback from a steadily growing list of clients, the system has been very thoroughly debugged and has had many specialist features added, most of which can be switched on or off simply by clicking a button on a form.
A particularly popular feature, available from the start, is online ordering of repeat prescriptions. The patient completes a short form, using the information on the tear-off counterfoil from his or her last prescription, and submits it. An acknowledgment page appears, allowing all the information submitted to be checked, and if the patient has given an email address a confirming message is sent. More recently, the providers of clinical IT systems have started offering online prescription requests and appointment-booking. Extra buttons linking to the Access EMIS and SystmOnline websites can be switched on to allow patients to log in to the site corresponding to their practice’s clinical system. Like many other features, the original Sites4Doctors prescription ordering facility can then be switched off.
Other features include an online version of the GPAQ patient satisfaction survery and a comments and suggestions box where patients can comment on the practice’s site or its services.
The most recent additions are buttons for pages of links to all the pages on the site, arranged alphabetically, and the fifty most recently added or updated pages on the site.
But the site facilities and technicalities are only half the story. What practices are really paying for is a very high level of customer care. They have both landline and mobile numbers, and the mobile is switched on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Email is monitored on a BlackBerry handheld which is switched on from 8am to 10pm every day. And, if a client uses the support and suggestions form in the Site Management System, the message is emailed and a text-message alert is sent to the mobile. All queries are dealt with as quickly as is humanly possible, the record so far being an on-call GP working on his site who used the form at 1:15am. He had an email response from the BlackBerry before 1:30am. On another occasion, a new client had set up a site but could not log in to the system. He called the mobile, which I answered at the checkout in a French hypermarket! It turned out that he had an apostrophe in his Irish surname, which the current version of the system could not handle. The system was modified within an hour.
The terms of the package allow anyone to set up a site and experiment with it for up to six weeks before paying for set-up, support and hosting. At the end of that time, if they’re not convinced, they can simply walk away without paying a penny. You can’t say fairer than that!
Once the first payment has been received. clients are entitled to a half-day practice visit for training on the system, discussion of any modificatione they require to the design of their sites and unlimited high-quality digital photography.
Sites for other types of organisation
Rather than build a whole range of variants, in which every update (of which there have probably been thousands by now) has to be replicated across a number of systems, I now ask clients other than GP practices to start with the doctors system, which I then tweak to suit individual needs.
Low-cost, high-quality hosting
The package, including this site, uses the incredible Europe-wide 1&1 Internet hosting service, which claims to be the biggest web-hosting service in the world. This company offers a very high level of service at very low cost, first by keeping things simple and second by attracting and keeping a huge number of customers - if you stack ’em high, you can sell ’em cheap. You can read all about their services on the 1&1 site. If you don’t want to use my package but you do want to develop a site for yourself, I can wholeheartedly recommend them.
How it works in detail
You can find out much more about how the Sites4Doctors package worked here.
Skilled development and management
I’ve been developing and managing websites since I joined BT’s pioneering CampusWorld team in Spring 1995 - when the Pentium processor had only just been launched (complete with inbuilt errors in floating-point arithmetic), hardly anyone outside the scientific community had even heard of the World Wide Web (I hadn’t until I was asked to contribute to it!), modems ran at a maximum of 9.6 kilobits-per-second and broadband, offering one or more megabits, wasn’t even a distant dream. Fair play to BT, though - even then they were saying it would eventually be possible to transmit movies down the phone line, and now everybody’s doing it.
You can judge my competence for yourself by looking at this site, the Sites4Doctors site and the many client sites. But in the hi-tech world, nothing stands still: the suite of sites I developed for the Southern Derbyshire health community and its associated organisations have all been superseded by other people’s work.
You can read a full account of my career in the private sector, teaching and web work, stretching from 1961 to the present, and a briefer CV, by clicking here.
Living with change
Even in my mid-60s, I have to keep pace with technological change.
In November 2009 I finally got totally frustrated with Windows Vista and was faced with a stark choice: either spend £150 on Windows 7 and be prepared to be (hopefully) a little less frustrated; or try to do something I’ve hoped for years might provide a better solution - get to grips with Linux as an alternative. I spent a whole working week in that month wrestling with my main workstation, and finally, on the Friday, I had Linux running as an alternative to Vista on the main machine and as an alternative to Windows XP on my laptop. The solution wasn’t what I’d call optimal on either machine, but things did look encouraging.
And it didn’t stop there. In fact, it turned into a real epic. Many a slip? You’d better believe it!
By the 30 November 2009) I had a desktop machine with two copies of Windows Vista and one of Sun Microsystems’s OpenSolaris in a multi-boot system. Solaris, like Linux, is an open-source implementation of one of the Unix family of operating systems, and has absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft. Unfortunately, there was at least one the of things I have to do to support Sites4Doctors that could only be achieved in Windows. For the rest, I was hoping to spend the rest of my working life in The Unix/Linux Zone.
I still do also have a laptop running Windows XP Professional and Ubuntu Linux in a dual-boot system. Both Solaris and Linux use the GNOME desktop, which doesn’t look any different to the user despite sitting on two different operating systems - and which is attractive enough to coax any discerning user away from Windows forever!
Unfortunately there were things about OpenSolaris about which I was less than comfortable, so I removed it and tried Fedora, another free Linux package. That didn’t even work! At that point I decided to take a long winter break.
But, like a terrier with a rat, I just couldn’t let go of this problem, and by two weeks before Christmas I was back with Ubuntu, installed as on the laptop as a dual-boot with - this time - Windows Vista. However, I was rapidly, and depressingly, coming to the conclusion that a stripped-to-the-bone Windows environment was probably the best I was going to get.
And if you find a really effective alternative to the Microsoft Monster, please click the Contact me button and tell me about it!
Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.
This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.