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In general, when performing MedARKS data entry on multiple computers, is it best to have the computers connected via a local area network (LAN) so that only a single set of data files are being accessed and updated by all the computers. When you have data entry occurring in multiple sets of files, keeping all the data sets synchronized can be difficult. As soon as you have more than 1 set of data files, it becomes possible for the various sets of records to diverge, so that the medical history of an animal is different on different computers. However, even with a LAN, there are occasionally conditions under which one (or more) computers not connected to the LAN may be used to access MedARKS. The most common situation is when an institution has a LAN at the hospital but has a laptop computer that is used at a remote site (e.g., a breeding facility that is separate from the main institution). This document discusses the options available when attempting to run copies of MedARKS on a LAN and on an independent computer (laptop).
No Data Entry on Laptop:
If the clinician only wants to use the laptop to view (retrieve) existing MedARKS records, then the easiest solution for getting current records onto the laptop is to backup the LAN MedARKS onto floppy diskettes and immediately restore those records onto the laptop. Restore all records except the 'collections' information (the location of the ARKS files on the LAN will almost certainly be different than on the laptop and overwriting this file will cause the laptop to have difficulty locating the ARKS files). The restore process will place a current set of records (as the time of the LAN backup) on the laptop and these records may be viewed using the MedARKS program on the laptop. All existing medical records on the computer will be overwritten with the data files from the backup set, so if you had done any data entry on the laptop (and those records are not also in the LAN system), then you have lost those records.
Finally, you will also need to periodically update the ARKS data files on the laptop. If you have a standard ARKS setup, the MedARKS utility (system utilities menu) that copies ARKS data files from the registrar's computer to the MedARKS computer can also be used to copy those files from the LAN to the laptop (see Helpful Hint #13). How often you need to update the ARKS files will depend on the stability of the collection at the remote site.
Data Entry on the Laptop:
If there is data entry being performed on the LAN files and on the laptop files, then the backup/restore option is not acceptable. The backup/restore method over-writes existing records with the data files that you are moving, and since you are moving files in 2 directions (both to and from the laptop) you are at risk of over-writing records that do not exist in the set being restored. For example, you add a record on the laptop and a co-worker adds a record on the LAN. Move the LAN records to the laptop, you over-write (and lose) the record you added, but move the laptop records to the LAN and you over-write (and lose) the record your co-worker added.
The solution to this dilemma is to take advantage of the ability of MedARKS to transfer records between institutions. When you transfer records, these records are merged into the receiving MedARKS data files and do not impact the existing records on that computer. Essentially, you will treat the laptop as one institution and the LAN as a second institution.
The previous discussion regarding ARKS files also applies in this situation. Please read the appropriate paragraph in the above section if you have not already done so.
Using the data transfer routine:
Sending computer: Start MedARKS on the sending computer and, from the main menu, choose #7, then #4 (Medical History - Data Transfer) and enter your password (if needed). Select the option to transfer records to a floppy disk. Make appropriate responses to the next prompts until you reach the list of choices for the method of record selection (the last choice on the list will be "by date range"). Choose to transfer records based on date range and then enter the date range for the transfer process (the default period is the last week). Next choose to transfer "all medical records" and you should be ready to copy records to the floppy diskette. When the program has completed the process of copying records to the floppy diskette, take the diskette and go to the receiving computer to begin the process of merging the records with those already on the receiving computer.
Receiving computer: Start MedARKS on the receiving computer and, from the main menu, choose #7, then #4 (Medical History - Data Transfer) and enter your password (if needed). Select the option to append records from a floppy disk. You will be prompted for information regarding the drive containing the floppy diskette with the records. The newer versions of MedARKS (5.30l and higher) will recognize that the records on the disk probably represent transfer within an institution and will simply confirm that this is the case and begin the record transfer. Older versions of MedARKS will present each of the accession numbers on the disk and request the accession number that your institution has assigned to the animal (this is an easy question, since the accession number has not changed when moving records within an institution). Answer the prompts and once you have reached the last animal on the transfer disk, the transfer of records should begin.
Problems to Avoid when Using Data Transfer within an Institution:
This transfer method has some potential problems that can still cause the LAN and laptop data sets to drift apart. You need to be aware of several weaknesses/limitations to this method when trying to keep multiple copies of MedARKS data files synchronized with each other.
- The first involves deleted records. When you delete a record in MedARKS, the record is simply removed. If you have already transferred records from the laptop to the LAN and you then delete a record on the laptop, that record will still exist on the LAN. MedARKS (on the LAN) has no way to know that the record no longer exists on the laptop, and you could even transfer that record back to the laptop at a later time. So, if you delete a record after the record has been transferred to the LAN (or the reverse case), then you will need to remember to delete that record in both places. Changing the accession number on a record is the same situation and must be done in both locations (essentially MedARKS copies the existing record to the new accession number and then deletes the original record). Any record editing or deleting done prior to transfer of the record will have no impact - only the final copy of the record is moved.
- Non-accessioned animal records are not transferred, so all data entry on non-accessioned animals must be done on the LAN.
- General editing of old (existing) records on the laptop can also lead to problems. If you are routinely transferring records by date and then you edit (on the laptop) a record from 2 months ago, you must also remember to transfer that date to the LAN. It is often easier to restrict data editing of existing records to the LAN rather than perform extensive data editing on the laptop and then try to remember to transfer all the edited records to the LAN. Any editing done on the laptop that is not transferred to the LAN causes the 2 data sets to begin to drift apart. Then the question will eventually arise as to which is the correct version of the record.
What if I transfer the same records from the laptop to the LAN by mistake?
This usually will not cause a major problem. The transfer program works to prevent duplicate records from being loaded onto the receiving computer. Running the same transfer twice will mean that most (if not all) of the records in the second transfer will simply be ignored. The exception would be records on the receiving computer that had been edited so that the incoming record is no longer considered an exact duplicate of the existing record. In that case, you would have 2 very similar records in existence and some point you would need to identify and delete the redundant record on both the LAN and the laptop.
written by J. Andrew Teare, DVM
Last update: 2.Dec.1998