Program is billed as the equivalent of 7 medical reference books

FEELING ILL? SOFTWARE MAKES SURE THE DOCTOR IS ALWAYS IN

January 13, 1992|By Nancy Imperiale | Nancy Imperiale,Orlando Sentinel

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- I am experiencing confusion, I tell the doctor.

A bespectacled woman with a neat blond bun, the doc assures me confusion is occasionally normal, unless it disrupts everyday life.

Have you injured your head in the past weeks? she asks.

No.

Did the confusion develop suddenly over the past several hours?

Yes, I confess.

The doctor seems more concerned. She barrages me with questions. Am I also experiencing vision loss, numbness, difficulty speaking or weakness in extremities?

Not really. After a few more questions and several more "no's," the doc gives up. She tells me to think long and hard about my symptoms, to see if my confusion has another cause I'm not revealing. I am dismissed.

The doctor was right. But there was no way to tell her the truth -- I kept getting flustered and punching the wrong keys.

Welcome to the Home Medical Advisor, where user error is the only impediment to a healthy doctor-patient relationship.

Created by a physician, the computer program is touted as seven medical reference books in one. The file I was using can diagnose illness by coaxing symptoms from the user through 21 different graphic "doctors" of both sexes and three nationalities. There is also information on 1,200 drugs and poisons, 450 diseases, 150 injuries and more than 130 medical tests.

What should you do if your toddler chews on a cigarette?

Forget which medication makes you sun-sensitive?

Is that chest pain a heart attack or just heartburn?

Pull up a modem. The doctor is in.

"It's kind of ironic that we have user manuals for our CDs, microwaves and TVS, yet we have no manual for our most important instrument -- ourselves," said creator Dr. Stephen Schueler from the emergency room of Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne. After six years at the hospital, Dr. Schueler was recently named chairman of the emergency department.

He says he created the program -- which has been on the market since September -- to help more than the 50 or so patients he sees a day.

"If you think about it, I can improve more people's health [through this] than I can working every day of the week as a doctor," said the 35-year-old man wearing scrubs and a neatly trimmed beard.

"We'll all grow old and eventually get sick and be on medication. The more you know, the better off you are."

Those who use the $70 program agree.

"I think it educates you about things you should know, and maybe things you should tell the doctor when you visit him," said Paul Rufo, a Melbourne real estate and insurance salesman who said the program also comes in handy in the office.

"You can look in the symptom file and give employees some information that might keep them from having to leave work to go to the doctor," he said.

The program works for children too.

Eight-year-old Adam C. Losey had a sore throat. So he conferred with a higher intelligence.

"On his own he turned on the computer, worked through it and figured out what was wrong," said his father, Ralph Losey. The program told him he had a simple sore throat. "He got some information, and I think it made him feel better."

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