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Q: We religiously read your column in the Fresno Bee and find your insights most useful, particularly as you are able to explain things in a way that nontechnical people can follow. We wonder if you could help us with a problem that we are trying to solve. We are trying to have a pharmacy transmit prescription data to our office so we can download it to a database for analysis and billing purposes.

The pharmacy is currently transmitting data by modem to another location (not related to us). Am I correct in assuming that we would need a program compatible to the pharmacy's software to be able to recognize and receive the data and add it to our own database? Do you have any suggestions as to how we could go about this?

- Terrance J. Smith

A: Thanks for the kind words, Doc, said the blushing Q&A columnist. Now for business: This kind of data swapping is the kind of problem for which Oracle and PeopleSoft were put on this Earth to help big outfits solve. But I fear that these commercial database giants are a bit too rich for your blood, and a surprising number of folks have solved this particular quandary through such simple alternatives as e-mail.

The pharmacy simply could make a copy of the data it's sending by modem to other parties and then attach it to an e-mail message that you could load into your own software, probably Microsoft Excel, for use.

Excel handles this kind of data sharing with a tool called External Data Import under the Data heading on the toolbar. Whatever format your pharmacy is using - everything from Oracle and PeopleSoft to simple lists of numbers separated by commas in a text file - can be imported into an Excel workbook and automatically synchronized with past downloads.

When e-mail isn't practical, a lot of small businesses use remote Internet data-hosting services to share data among various computers. Check out for a reasonably priced service that lets customers upload data from any point on the Internet and then have others (with your approval) access it from any other place.

By having the pharmacy upload to this Web storage, you could then access it with Excel's Import tool in short order.

Contact Jim Coates via e-mail at