Published: 31/01/2002, Volume II2, No. 5790 Page 30 31

Prodigy: using the computer in the consulting room

By Mike Sowerby, Department of Health, Sowerby Centre for Health Informatics, Newcastle University CD-ROM. 216MB (needs Windows 95 or later).

Free from prodigy-inquiries@schin-ncl. ac. uk or telephone 0191 243 6196

Mike Sowerby is a very smart guy, so no surprises that this CD-ROM is a very clever bit of work from the Sowerby Centre (no relation) in Newcastle.

Getting GPs to trust computergenerated, evidence-based information during the patient consultation is not as straightforward as it might seem.At the same time, allowing family doctors to use their intuition, knowledge of their patients and 'art of medicine'can be anathema to NHS academic bureaucrats.Mike knows this from chairing more meetings of representatives from all sides than most people have family Sunday dinners.

Yet computers in the surgery are a fact of life.Avoiding giving prescriptions of Viagra to a patient already on nitrates keeps us out of court, the General Medical Council and - more importantly - the News of the Wo r ld .Using it as a second opinion looks a tad more savvy than perusing a dusty tome.

Mike urges us to go one step further.

He wants the computer to be the first opinion for patient treatment.This is revolutionary.But we have no choice and this CD-ROM tries to provide a pain-free transition from knucklegrazer to semi-knowledgeable nerd.

It will not teach you anything about being a clever doctor, but it does give superb instruction on the best use of the computer during the consultation.

Even the positioning of the monitor is discussed.Needless guff, you might say. I once did a locum in a surgery where the monitor sat on a seat next to the patient because there was no room on the desk.

The marvellous thing about the CDROM is that it presumes neither nerd nor abacus status for the viewer. If you are comfortable with the material shown, you can move on to a higher level.

As an introduction to the amazing (if sometimes overwhelming) world of Prodigy, this CD-ROM is worth clicking through to make sure you are not missing anything. It would also be enormously useful in GP registrar training to generate debate over the best use of computers.

The CD-ROM loaded first time in my Windows ME, with perfect sound.With an average of seven minutes for consultation, we need more time for listening than reading a computer screen, but it would be would be nice to have both.

Five years ago, I shrugged when Mike asked me what I thought of the Prodigy concept.This CD-ROM proves that he was right and I was criminally indifferent.More power to his electronic elbow.