CD-ROMs let you play doctor at home

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, October 15, 1993

products reviewed:

The Family Doctor
Creative Multimedia Corp.

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book
Interactive Ventures

The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies
Compton's NewMedia

available from:
GMS DataLink Corporation
8282 Sherbrooke Street
Vancouver V5X 4R6
(604) 327-4335
(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 got.
All of Shakespeare. All the words in an encyclopedia on
one disk.

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 (and in
650 meg, that can be a lot!), now CD-ROM disks are supposed to give you sound
and pictures. Multimedia.

Aren't they?

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 to be
a reference source, but not just a volume that will sit on a desk. They all
have similar hardware requirements, and sell for similar prices.
Nevertheless, each has a distinct personality.


A single disk gives you three versions... DOS, MacIntosh, and Windows MPC.
The Windows version lets you choose between 16 and 256 colour versions. This
always makes me wonder... wouldn't we be better off with three different
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 office,
along with the contents. You can always get back to the contents with a click
on an icon. The only other icon available lets you conduct a search. High
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 questions and
answers. For example, click on "2,000 common Questions" then "Questions and
Answers". Let's choose "Mental and Emotional Conditions" (sounds promising!),
then "Skin, Nails, and Hair" (I didn't know nails were a mental condition...
well, you learn something new every day). Here we get the following choices
of articles:
-- 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 takes
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 zoom
in, but they are inadequately labelled. Like the rest of the program, they
make a relatively small, 490x432 pixel sized window... not making good use of
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 seen
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 them.

1,600 prescription drugs are discussed in detail, including effects and side-
effects. While sometimes a bit technical, this can be very useful information.

Health update booklets section includes 25 booklets on 6 topics: arthritis, heart aging,
etc. Again, these are repackaged from other available sources. The Resource Listings
section again repackages mostly brief articles from the Chicago Tribune,
along with a good list of resource addresses. A glossary defines medical


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 noisy,
animated opening. Luckily, clicking the keyboard or mouse turns it off, and
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 deeper into
the nested items a la Family Doctor. Again, you can simply serach for a
particular word.

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 click
for a hyper-text leap to a related topic or explanation.

Topics include:
Life Cycles... growth and development
The World Around Us... first aid, travel, safety, and the environment
Keeping Fit.. exercise, nutrition, etc.
Human Disease
Photo Section of Skin Disorders (complete with a disconcerting voice reading
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 than
using the metaphor of flipping pages in a medical book, here, you move along
a scroll bar, and the different body systems smoothly appear and disappear...
it can be a little startling, almost like peeling off layers of skin and
There are also a couple of appendixes. Medical tests are well outlined. The
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 useful.       


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 seems
to use a standard interface for programs produced by MOST (
Multiple Operating Systems Tech) ... best known for the KGB/CIA Factbook.

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 more
standard than they appear at first glance:
Idea Search and Contents (just like in the Family Doctor). There's also a
Dictionary tool. But why is this Merriam Webster dictionary here? It's not at
all integrated into the rest of the program. As well, it's confusing to use...
it forces you to type a word, but doesn't show what
you type until you press ENTER... along with definitions and a thesaurus,
there are also references: such as US/Foreign place names, and an odd
collection of tables: including the planets, and words starting with "semi-".

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 manage
multiple windows, by arranging them around a large 'virtual screen'... but I
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 like
the same text being advertised at 4 am. A long list of everyday, mostly minor
problems, with a series of single paragraph proposed solutions. Many of these
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, and
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" will
really help you get over this winter's colds and flus any quicker. Just stay
home in bed, and get my mother (or yours) to make you a nice bowl of chicken

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from fans hoping that I could sell 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 you check 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)


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan