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Computer Consult: The only dumb question is the one you don't ask


You may have some of these puzzlers on your mind. Here are the answers.


Computer Consult

The only dumb question is the one you don't ask

You may have some of these puzzlers on your mind. Here are the answers.

By Rosemarie Nelson

"I'm embarrassed to ask . . . " "I hate to bother you with some-thing so simple . . . "

"This is really a dumb question . . . "

Every week, I get phone calls and e-mails from doctors who want advice about solving a computer snafu or buying hardware. Almost every conversation begins with a sheepish confession of ignorance.

Well, who isn't humbled when computer talk turns technical? Even consultants like me struggle to keep up with constant advances in the technology. So it's not surprising that physicians feel like babes in the e-woods.

But guess what? If someone asks a "dumb" question, chances are that hundreds, or even thousands, of perplexed computer users are wondering the same thing. With that in mind, let me share some of the questions I've fielded recently. Many of them deal with basic functions in Windows, the ubiquitous operating system from Microsoft.

Q: It's frustrating to print out a lengthy document, only to have the last page face-up on top of the stack and page 1 face-up on the bottom. Why can't I print them in the right order to begin with?

A: You can. Click on "Tools" on the menu bar, select "Options," then select the "Print" tab. Here, check the box for "Reverse print order." (Or, based on printer settings, you may need to de-select this checkbox by clicking on it.) Now when you print, the first page of the document will be on top of the stack in the printer tray. The last page will be truly last.

Q: I keep hearing the initials "URL," but I don't know what they mean.

A: URL stands for uniform resource locator. It's the address of an Internet file. The URL usually consists of four parts: The protocol, the server or domain, the path or directory, and the file name or document. For example, the URL for the most recent issue of Medical Economics magazine that's online is http://me.pdr.net/me/index.htm. Http is the protocol, me.pdr.net is the server or domain, me is the path, and index.htm is the file name. The URL for the first page, or home page, of a Web site—such as http://www.yahoo.com—usually lacks the last two elements.

Q: My partner sent me a Microsoft Word document as an e-mail attachment. I opened the document, modified it, and saved it. Now I can't find the modified file in the "My Documents" folder. Where did it go?

A: Look for the Windows folder in the C-drive of your file directory, then bop down to a subfolder marked Temp. That's the default location of attached files that you've modified and saved.

Here's an easy way to get to the file directory and the Window/Temp subfolder. Right-click (use the button on the right side of your mouse) on "Start" and then click on the "Explore" option. Now you're in the computer's file directory. Find your lost file in Windows/Temp, select it, and drag it to whatever folder in "My Documents" you want it to reside in.

To avoid the Windows/Temp default the next time you work on an attached file, go to "File" in your application program (Microsoft Word, for example) and click on "Save As." The dialog box that pops up will allow you to save the file to a folder in "My Documents."

Q: On my Windows desktop, all the icons line up in columns on the left side of the screen. When I try to move one, it just snaps back to the bottom of the last column. How can I organize my icons in an order that suits me?

A: The icons won't obey you because "Auto Arrange" is turned on. To turn it off, right-click on an empty stretch of your desktop to conjure up a menu of options. Click on "Arrange Icons" and then on "Auto Arrange" so that the checkmark disappears. With Auto Arrange disabled, desktop icons will stay where you put them.

Q: Is it possible to run application software programs written for a Macintosh on a PC? My practice insists on using PCs, but I'm a die-hard Mac person.

A: Your only hope is to install what's called a Macintosh emulator. It's a software program that mimics the Mac's operating system, or OS.

An OS, of course, is a computer's central nervous system. It allows you to run the various application programs—word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail—that make computers useful. PCs and Macs have different operating systems, which explains the incompatibility of these two computer families.

If you install a Mac emulator on your PC, your Mac application programs may not work as efficiently (they may be very slow, for instance), so caution is advised.

Q: My printer isn't working, and the kid at the computer store told me I probably need a new driver. What's a driver?

A: A driver is a software program that lets your computer communicate with a peripheral device—a printer, a mouse, a scanner—and tell it what to do. In most cases, the driver becomes an issue when you have changed or upgraded your operating system. For example, if you graduate to Windows 2000, one of your peripherals may begin performing oddly. Now you know where to start troubleshooting.

Q: How can I get Internet Explorer to start up with a full-screen window? It always starts up too small.

A: Try this: Once you've opened Internet Explorer, increase the window to your desired size and then close the window. The next time you run Internet Explorer, it will open at that size. You can right-size other programs the same way. This gambit may not work on all computers, depending on how they're configured. In that case, click on "Start" and then "Help" to find the solution.

Q: I have a file that I work with all the time. I know that I'm supposed to be able to create a shortcut to that file on my desktop, but I don't know how to do that. I feel like a total klutz.

A: Here's how to create a handy shortcut. Right-click on "Start" and proceed to "Explore." Once you're in the file directory, right-click on the file in question. A menu will appear. Select the "Send To" command, then choose "Desktop as Shortcut." When you close or minimize any open window, you'll find an icon bearing the name of the file on the screen. Double-click on that icon to open the file.

If any of these questions are ones that you've been embarrassed to ask, take solace in the fact that, like many others, you're slowly mastering computer technology. Be patient. It takes four years to earn an MD or DO. Becoming computer-literate doesn't happen overnight.

Just remember—there are no dumb questions, just dumb computers.

Do you have a computer question? Write to Robert Lowes, the editor of this column, at Medical Economics magazine, 200 S. Bemiston Ave., Suite 306, St. Louis, MO 63105. You can also fax your question to 314-727-2214, or send an e-mail to mecomp@medec.com. Sorry, but we are unable to answer readers individually.

The author is a computer consultant in Syracuse.


Rosemarie Nelson. Computer Consult: The only dumb question is the one you don't ask. Medical Economics 2001;11:24.

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