CD-ROMs let you play doctor at home
by Alan Zisman (c)
1993. First published in Our Computer Player, October 15, 1993
The Family Doctor
Creative Multimedia Corp.
Mayo Clinic Family Health Book
The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies
GMS DataLink Corporation
8282 Sherbrooke Street
Vancouver V5X 4R6
(604) 327-2600 FAX
CD-ROMs started out as text... lots and lots of it.
The wonder wasn't so much
in how something looked or ran, but in the sheer quantity of what you
All of Shakespeare. All the words in an encyclopedia on
Many products are still like that... the recent
release of the complete
Monarch Notes, for example. Any number of specialty references.
But as CD-ROMs started being marketed for home use,
publishers felt like they
had to jazz up the product. It's not just how many words are inside
650 meg, that can be a lot!), now CD-ROM disks are supposed to give you
and pictures. Multimedia.
The disks I'm looking at all take on a similar task...
they're trying to
provide medical information for a non-professional home user. Each aims
a reference source, but not just a volume that will sit on a desk. They
have similar hardware requirements, and sell for similar prices.
Nevertheless, each has a distinct personality.
THE FAMILY DOCTOR
A single disk gives you three versions... DOS,
MacIntosh, and Windows MPC.
The Windows version lets you choose between 16 and 256 colour versions.
always makes me wonder... wouldn't we be better off with three
versions, each with 3 times as much content?
Still, even with only 1/3rd of a CD-ROM disk, Family
Doctor packs a lot of
The program opens up with a cute, old-
fashioned Norman Rockwell picture of a little boy in a 1950s GP's
along with the contents. You can always get back to the contents with a
on an icon. The only other icon available lets you conduct a search.
marks for a clear, and simple interface.
First off, there are answers to 2,000 questions.
Unfortunately, you have to
browse through several levels of contents to get to the actual
answers. For example, click on "2,000 common Questions" then "Questions
Answers". Let's choose "Mental and Emotional Conditions" (sounds
then "Skin, Nails, and Hair" (I didn't know nails were a mental
well, you learn something new every day). Here we get the following
-- More on Hair Pulling
-- Can Rash be Caused by Mental State?
-- What Causes Small Blisters that Cover the Foot
-- Where do 'Devil's Pinches' Come From?
The actual articles are chatty and informative, but
the selection does seem a
bit odd, and the process of getting there was tedious. I guess this
away the point for a simple interface.
There's also an anatomy manual, but it is simply half
a dozen pictures of major
systems of the body. The illustrations look good, and do permit you to
in, but they are inadequately labelled. Like the rest of the program,
make a relatively small, 490x432 pixel sized window... not making good
your Windows desktop's real estate.
The collection of 300 color illustrations actually
consists of a set of "Resident & Staff Physician Patient
Education" charts... they look exactly like the posters you've probably
on the wall in your doctor's examination room. These, however, have an
annoying habit of
opening as tiny windows needing enlarging before you can begin to view
1,600 prescription drugs are discussed in detail,
including effects and side-
effects. While sometimes a bit technical, this can be very useful
Health update booklets section includes 25 booklets on
6 topics: arthritis, heart aging,
etc. Again, these are repackaged from other available sources. The
section again repackages mostly brief articles from the Chicago
along with a good list of resource addresses. A glossary defines
MAYO CLINIC FAMILY HEALTH BOOK
From the moment you open this volume, you get more
flash than with Family
Doctor. It opens full-screen, even on my 800x600 pixel setup, with a
animated opening. Luckily, clicking the keyboard or mouse turns it off,
gets you to the real program.
You get a longer, more detailed contents list...
you've got to scroll down (
and down, and down), but that may be easier than going deeper and
the nested items a la Family Doctor. Again, you can simply serach for a
When you do find a topic, this program seems to use
something like the Windows help engine for text...
as in the common Windows Help, you get lots of green words that let you
for a hyper-text leap to a related topic or explanation.
Life Cycles... growth and development
The World Around Us... first aid, travel, safety, and the environment
Keeping Fit.. exercise, nutrition, etc.
Photo Section of Skin Disorders (complete with a disconcerting voice
the captions... luckily you can turn it off)
Modern Medical System--- using the system, cancer, pharmacy
Again, the actual text is clear and comprehensive. The
anatomy guide is much
more detailed and better labelled than the Family Doctor's... rather
using the metaphor of flipping pages in a medical book, here, you move
a scroll bar, and the different body systems smoothly appear and
it can be a little startling, almost like peeling off layers of skin
There are also a couple of appendixes. Medical tests are well outlined.
drug directory, however, simply lists pharmaceuticals, with a one line
description of each. Here, the Family Doctor's detailed discussion (
especially of possible side effects) seems much more
THE DOCTOR'S BOOK OF HOME REMEDIES
While this disk is from well known CD-ROM publisher
Compton's NewMedia, I'm
afraid I wasn't impressed with either its form or its content.
It opens up with a confusing 640x480 opening
screen. It's the only one of
the three to include a user's guide... and the only one to need one. It
to use a standard interface for programs produced by MOST (
Multiple Operating Systems Tech) ... best known for the KGB/CIA
You get a 'Pathbar' down right(or top) side of screen,
and a larger window,
initially showing a table of contents. The tools in the pathbar are
standard than they appear at first glance:
Idea Search and Contents (just like in the Family Doctor). There's also
Dictionary tool. But why is this Merriam Webster dictionary here? It's
all integrated into the rest of the program. As well, it's confusing to
it forces you to type a word, but doesn't show what
you type until you press ENTER... along with definitions and a
there are also references: such as US/Foreign place names, and an odd
collection of tables: including the planets, and words starting with
A small "Workspace" window at the bottom of the screen
lets you work with multiple workspaces...
again, I found this feature poorly explained in both the printed
documentation, and the on-line help. Presumably, it lets the user
multiple windows, by arranging them around a large 'virtual screen'...
never was able to figure out how (or why) to use it.
Then there's the contents: this is the CD-ROM version
of a print book, that's
widely advertised on late-nite TV. And that's all you get... it seems
the same text being advertised at 4 am. A long list of everyday, mostly
problems, with a series of single paragraph proposed solutions. Many of
seem outstandingly trivial. For example, you get:
-- 18 home acne remedies ("Scrub that skin", for one 'cure')
-- 15 allergy relievers ("Isolate your pets")
-- 22 ways to relieve the ache of arthritis ("Learn to relax")
-- 16 ways to overcome bad breath ("Don't dine with the garlic family")
On and on, through belching, black eye... down to 26 andidotes for
Yeast Infection ("Don't
Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical, but I don't
get it... this CD-ROM costs more
than the paper version, has no added content or features, no graphics,
has an awkward interface. And you can't read it in bed.
Despite my title, a word of warning. None of these
books should be used in
place of a doctor's help. And none of them, not even "Home Remedies"
really help you get over this winter's colds and flus any quicker. Just
home in bed, and get my mother (or yours) to make you a nice bowl of
(Note from the year 2003): The above
article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and
later, I've gotten a series of emails from fans hoping that I could
them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is
still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a
vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of
older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If
on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly
freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements
for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)