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Computer Doctor (1974)


Main image of Computer Doctor (1974)
For This Week in Britain, 16mm, colour, 5 mins
DirectorEric Halliday
Production CompanyA1 Films
SponsorCentral Office of Information
ProducerAnthony Hinton

Presenter Michèle Brown

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Michèle Brown visits London's Western Hospital, where a computer is on the medical staff to help doctors with routine doctor\patient consultations.

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In the postwar period, cinemagazines (magazine-style programmes that dealt with more light hearted news items) produced exclusively for overseas audiences increasingly drew on science and technology to project a positive image of Britain to the rest of the world. Here a computerised doctor is showcased as evidence of Britain's position at the helm of cutting-edge technological advancement.

A doctor appears on a TV screen and addresses the viewer: "I'd like you to think very carefully about the next question. In the past three years have you had a period of increased coughs and phlegm lasting for three weeks or more?" The patient responds as he would to a 'real' doctor and his answers are printed out. Heralded as a breakthrough in doctor-patient care by its inventor, Dr Chris Evans of the National Physical Laboratory, the 'Computer Doctor' was part of a scientific research project based at the Western Hospital, London, investigating ways to save valuable doctors' time and enable them to get fuller and more accurate medical information from their patients. Indeed, for the patients participating in the research it seems that talking to a 'computer doctor' is far less intimidating than a face-to-face dialogue with a 'live' doctor. "You're more liable to tell this thing the truth than you are a doctor," says one patient, an opinion corroborated by another.

This was the early days of computer technology and presenter Michèle Brown's tongue-in-cheek remarks suggest the high novelty value such prototypes would have enjoyed before interactive computer aids became commonplace in medical care. "If we're going to see more of these computer doctors in the future then I must say that this one's got a very fetching bedside manner," she concludes.

Katy McGahan

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Complete film (4:38)