Nothing gets the conversation rolling quite so well as disease. For many young people disease is something that happens to other people, usually really old people, over 30 at least.
However, for some, such as parents, a basic knowledge of diseases and what to look for could be worth having, provided extreme care is taken in how it is used.
Never was a bit of knowledge more dangerous than in the area of medicine. The human body and its ills is such a complex issue that students must study for years and specialists become ignorant of matters outside their sphere.
I once taught a gang of gynaecologists in Osaka and they admitted they had almost forgotten how to do the simplest appendix operation. As for anatomy, they all said they were quite expert in certain areas of the female body; beyond that, they were hopeless. These were men just over 30 years old.
The question is then: how useful can an encyclopedia of disease be? If used with caution and intelligence, it could be quite useful. However, without the caution and the intelligence, it could be more dangerous than knowing nothing at all.
This balance is touched upon only when the software runs. It is wrapped mainly in legalese. No product aimed at the US market that deals with such matters is free of legal admonitions or puritan graphics, both of which rather detract from the usefulness of the software.
Stern warnings are to the fore. 'No warranties are made as to the accuracy, completeness or currency of any of the information contained in the program. All implied warranties are disclaimed, including an implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.' The body of the work is essentially a database of symptoms, diseases and medications. You type in what you think you have - for example, a headache - hit the return key and then watch as 495 possibilities appear on the screen. My second search was for measles. This brought me to the top of the disease file, from where I had to scroll down to find measles. An odd way to do a search.
There are videos of various operations and some low-resolution images of internal body parts, but nothing that I could find that made this software specific to the Windows platform. Using a product such as Macromedia's Director would have given the software makers access to the Macintosh as well.
The only reason to write CD-Rom software for a specific platform is to take advantage of what it can do. This software certainly does nothing of the kind.
On the positive side, there are links to Web sites for almost every topic covered. This is potentially useful. If one could get some kind of basic knowledge from the CD-Rom and then jump to a Web site that had up-to-date information, that would be excellent.
The software also could be useful when watching your favourite hospital drama on television.
PROS AND CONS Product: Home Medical Advisor Platform: Windows 3.1, Windows 95 Minimum requirements: 486SX/25 MHz, 256 colours, 8MB RAM, 20MB HD Price: HK$299 Tested on: Dell Dimension XPS H266 Pros: Lots of information on disease, automatic links to Web Cons: Graphics too simple and puritan, no Mac support