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JILT 1998 (1) - Vivienne Harpwood

The Medico-Legal Library:

Interactive CD-ROM

University of Wolverhampton, 1997, price available on request

Reviewed by
Vivienne Harpwood
Cardiff, University of Wales

1. Introduction
2. The Contents
3. Using the CD ROM
4. The Value of The Material
5. Conclusion

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This is an IT Review published on 27 February 1998

Citation:Harpwood V, ', The Medico-Legal Library: Interactive CD-ROM', IT Review, 1998 (1)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

1. Introduction

This CD-ROM has been produced by the School of Legal Studies at the University of Wolverhampton. It covers the basic principles of Negligence and Medical Law, and in addition it includes a section on basic human anatomy. Although the package appears to be intended primarily for students on law programmes at Wolverhampton University, it is of some value in providing basic information on the subject to all students of Medical Law and elementary Tort.

2. The Contents

The package features a brief introduction to Tort and a section on the general principles of Negligence. There is a section dealing in some detail with Medical Negligence, and another on common orthopaedic and related injuries, including basic anatomy. A digest of cases and statutes provides a useful reference point, with case summaries and the major medical law statutes. There are workplans and exercises for students to attempt, and these exercises refer students to the statutes, cases and recommended texts which will assist them in attempting the exercises. Advice is given on tackling the questions and exercises. Video re-enactments of Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee and Donoghue v Stevenson complete the package.

The Medical Law study plan includes a 'medico-legal environment' module covering medical liability and obligations, consent to treatment, confidentiality and current issues in medical law. This final option deals with the questions of the 'right' to life, the unborn child, abortion and the 'right' to die.

Icons at the bottom of the screen allow access to the Internet and to the students personal tutor by E-mail. It is possible for students to down-load material into their own notes and print out items which interest them.

The materials can be updated by referring to the web site of the School of Legal Studies at the University of Wolverhampton.

3. Using the CD-ROM

The CD-ROM is accompanied by a warning that running the programme using the minimum specification will be very slow, particularly when using the video content. The minimum spec required is 486 DX4-100, x2 CD-ROM, 7mbRam, Windows Compatible soundcard, VGA - 640x480 256 colours, DOS 6.0, Microsoft Windows 3.11. However, the recommended specification is Pentium 100 or higher, x8CD ROM, 7mb Hard Disk space, 16mb Ram, Windows Compatible soundcard, VGA/SVGA - 640x480, 16bit colours, Windows 95.

Few universities provide Windows 95 and the recommended specifications to allow access to the CD-ROM on computers which students and most members of staff are permitted to use. Licences are expensive and most staff and students are required to use University networks for their word processing programmes. Still fewer Universities routinely provide access to multi-media computers. This is a considerable drawback to a learning resource which is, in reality, dependent upon these factors. The lower specifications would not allow access to the programme at a satisfactory speed.

The CD-ROM claims to be user-friendly. This of course, depends on the user, but it took a reasonably competent user several attempts, some assistance, and about half an hour to discover how to load and access the material. The material itself is not always easy to read, as annoying multi-coloured backgrounds render some of the typed material virtually illegible at times. Some of the video reproduction is of rather poor quality and this distracts the student from concentrating on the contents.

However, once the initial difficulties are overcome it is entertaining to browse through the contents of the CD-ROM and select items of interest which can be discarded at will. The information in clear, the exercises are easy to follow and provide a useful starting point for learning the subject. As a learning resource the CD-ROM offers the opportunity for a varied approach to learning.

4. The Value of The Material

One distinguishing feature of Medical Law is that it can seldom be studied effectively alone. It is a subject which requires group discussion and interaction which cannot be offered by a textbook. Nor is such essential interaction achieved by this CD-ROM. At best it offers the student the opportunity to contact the tutor and others by E-mail or via the Internet - always supposing the tutor is available and has the inclination to give an instant response and join in a discussion. In this respect it is difficult to see how much this form of learning offers the student beyond that which can be provided by a book of cases and materials.

A second feature of Medical Law is that it needs to be studied in a wider social context, encompassing ethics, economics, social factors and comparative law. These aspects of the subject are not offered on the CD-ROM. It tackles the subject from a rather narrow perspective without providing information on the wider issues such as NHS indemnity, the funding of medical negligence claims and the structure of health-care provision.

The law of Tort is covered in the most basic form, though the explanations are clear and direct. Students would be wise to regard this CD-ROM as no more than an introduction to the subject. The video of Donoghue v Stevenson promised to be an exciting idea, but was disappointing in its presentation. The acting was unconvincing and it is difficult to understand how the student would learn as much from the video as from reading an account of the case, or indeed the case itself. The scene of the members of the House of Lords discussing the case in rather colloquial language does little to bring the case to life.

The video reconstruction of the Bolam case was even less convincing. Mr Bolam who was meant to be suffering from clinical depression, seemed stoical and almost cheerful when he told the doctor that his nerves had been 'giving him gyp', and any viewer who had witnessed a patient suffering from severe clinical depression would wonder why ECT would be an option for this Mr Bolam at all. The videos may be fun to watch, but they are not realistic reconstructions of the cases - though perhaps they are not intended to be.

Although most of the sections contain up-to date information, the cases on limitations in medical negligence claims are now rather old and do not reflect the current state of the law on the topic.

The section on anatomy is interesting and informative. It show parts of the body in graphic detail and demonstrates the way in which they move. For example, it is possible to observe the construction of a knee joint and to watch it rotate. To a non-medic this section was fascinating and useful. It is unfortunate that other areas of medicine which give rise to medico-legal problems were not covered. Lawyers who are concerned with personal injuries litigation would benefit from the information in this section. Those about to embark upon the study of Medical Law would also find the material a good source of illustrated information.

5. Conclusion

This approach to learning has to be treated with qualified rapture. While it is easy to be captivated by the technical ingenuity of the presentation, it must be considered in the context of other methods of approaching the subject and learning and criticising substantive law. One is forced to enquire what this method of learning offers over the conventional range of text books. In many ways the scope of the inquiry as presented on the CD-ROM is narrow and contains so much self-referential material that is can result in a circular enquiry which must be the opposite of what was originally intended. However, in a limited way it does provide a useful and different way of learning, especially as many institutions are now moving away from the old-fashioned face-to-face confrontational methods of teaching. Even in that context, however, the material will only be available to a limited and privileged audience of students who have access to multi-media computers. Although the material lacks depth at some points, it is a useful supplement to learning and could well provide a memorable introduction to Tort and Medical Law for students approaching the subject for the first time.

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