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Playing Doctor This Way Takes Perseverance and Lots of Patients

July 08, 1996|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

I'm not a doctor, but I play one on CD. And it's not easy.

The CD I'm playing with is Emergency Room, and my job is to progress from medical student to chief of staff at Legacy Memory Hospital. The game, developed by Legacy Software of Marina del Rey ([310] 823-2423 or is published by IBM ([800] 426-7235). It runs on MS-DOS, Windows and Windows 95 multimedia computers and sells for about $45.

Emergency Room takes you through the entire process of diagnosing and treating a range of ailments from minor scrapes to life-threatening diseases. After you're briefed by your supervising physician ("Dr. D. Boss"), you hurry to the waiting room to pick your first patient. You also hear from a couple of nurses and doctors, all of whom are played by actors. The video, although crude by TV standards, is pretty good as CD-ROMs go.

The first group of patients you encounter will have minor injuries. I chose the guy with the stingray puncture on his left foot, and before I could say "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," I was looking at his wound in the examination room. I didn't feel a need to order any lab work or tests, so I proceeded directly to the treatment room. Good thing I don't do this for a living: The patient survived thanks to advice from the nurse who was assisting me. Dr. Boss wasn't too pleased with my performance, so he sent me back to the waiting room to select another patient.

And so it went. My life as a would-be physician got harder as I worked my way through several patients. As with a real hospital, there was an endless stream of announcements on the PA system, a TV playing in the waiting room and lots of instruments at my disposal. There are separate areas for examinations, X-rays and other tests, treatment and discharge.

Fortunately, there were also several sources for help and advice, including a CME computer that provides "continuing medical education," a glossary and the "Med-o-Matic" hand-held computer that contains your notes and a place to keep track of your assessment, treatment plan and other details. If you fail to keep up your assessment and plan, you'll hear about it from Dr. Boss and the various nurses who assist you. It seems as if young doctors--and novice computer game players--don't get much respect.

Although it's hardly the equivalent of a medical education, the game does use simulations of real-life traumas and reasonably realistic medical tools and procedures. The CME has good information about ailments you'll encounter in the game, but it covers only a few items and doesn't pretend to be a medical encyclopedia.

You don't have to be an aspiring medical professional to enjoy or even benefit from Emergency Room. It's a challenging simulation game for adults and a good teaching tool for teenagers. It teaches problem solving, planning and the importance of following directions and doing things in the proper sequence.

Legacy Software's Web site ( includes links to several sources of medical information including the Virtual Hospital ( from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. That site offers real continuing medical education for health-care professionals, as well as information for patients, broken down by organ system.

IVI Publishing ([800] 432-1332 or offers a number of health-related CD-ROMs for adults and children, including AnnaTommy, where kids join "co-pilots Anna and Tommy in their miniaturized spaceship on a wild journey of exploration and adventure through the human body."

OK, it's reminiscent of some '60s sci-fi flicks, but its target audience probably never saw those movies anyway. Unlike Emergency Room, which is more of an adult simulation game, AnnaTommy features arcade-style games that help kids explore systems.

IVI also publishes reference CDs based on Mayo Clinic books. The Mayo Clinic Family Health CD is a virtual health encyclopedia with a drug and prescription reference section, a poison guide, a symptom search, an anatomy guide and a place to keep track of your family's health histories. Using multimedia animations, the CD provides advice on family health.

Another product, Mayo Clinic: The Total Heart, is billed as "the ultimate interactive guide to heart health." I spent a few hours perusing the disc and still didn't get through all the information about heart anatomy, the normal heart, heart disease, reducing risk, heart tests, treatments, drugs and emergency procedures. If there's anything you've ever wanted to know about your heart, this is the CD for you. A sampling of the CD, including some useful data about heart disease and tests, is available from IVI's Web site. But don't spend all your time with the CD or the Web site. A sedentary lifestyle, according to the "reducing risk" section of the CD, "is a risk factor for coronary artery disease."

Other health-related CDs from IVI include Mayo Clinic Sports Health and Fitness, Mayo Clinic Family Pharmacist, Mayo Clinic Health Encyclopedia and Living with HIV.

IVI, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, operates the Online Health Network (, which, on Friday, will become part of the AT&T Health site whose web address will be

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached by e-mail at His World Wide Web page is at

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