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Buff up your spreadsheet skills

Dr Neil Paul explains that GP practices could use Excel in many different ways if only they knew how.

Excel is capable of so much that can make your working day easier
Excel is capable of so much that can make your working day easier

Microsoft's Excel is currently the best known and most used computer spreadsheet.

Most people probably only use it for simple adding up of figures or for drawing pretty graphs. However, it is capable of so much more.

Auto filter
Excel can be used as a mini database. If you give titles to the columns by putting text in the top row you are effectively creating a simple database.

By using the auto filter command you can manipulate that data. You can sort columns, filter for one type of entry or can even use commands, such as 'show all >5'. I use this more than any other Excel feature.

Pivot tables
These are often seen as complicated but are so amazing that you need to understand what they can do for you.

I run searches from our clinical system of every referral.

They appear by patient and each row lists the patient's details, such as age and date of referral, to whom, by whom and urgency. Working out how many referrals each GP has made is long-winded without this function as you must go to the right column, sort it then count each GP's referral.

A pivot table will give you that information instantly if you make the right selection.

You can even break down this data to see referrals by referrer to which unit on which date.

Do you do the same thing over and over in Excel?

You need macros. Do not be afraid, you can record what you do then look at the code generated. Often it is really easy to understand and you can adapt or change it to do what you want.

Visual Basic for Applications
If feeling adventurous, get into Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) - a full programming language that allows you to customise and drive Excel.

VBA will even interact with other types of document. I once wrote a program that analysed some data, created some graphs and pasted them into a Word document. You may not want to do this, but knowing someone who can may solve a problem

Although you can customise Excel, often someone has already done it for you. Many companies sell add-ins that enhance Excel's functionality.

There are lots of websites with tips containing tutorials and sample sheets to download. There are also forums where you can ask questions.

  • Auto filter
  • Create mini databases.
  • Pivot tables
  • Switch around rows and columns.
  • Macros
  • Generate codes to avoid repetitive commands.
  • Visual Basic for Applications Customise Excel.
  • Add-ins
  • Search online for software.
  • Dr Paul is a GP in Cheshire

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