An Internet Museum of General Practice Computing?

In recent months I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who have been in Health Informatics for several decades, some of whom wrote their own GP clinical systems ‘back in the day’, when GP computing was pushed forward by enthusiastic GPs who had an interest in computers, bought their own machine, and developed their own software. Some people have told me they think there were something like 200-300 different pieces of GP software of this type in the 80s. Over decades, these systems either gradually disappeared or fell into disuse, with a very few surviving to become parts of what is still in clinical use today, albeit unrecognisably. Programs like iSOFT’s Premiere Synergy package, which is no longer developed or maintained, will soon join this cadre of disused systems.

The demise of iSOFT Synergy started to make me think we should try to find a way of preserving any of these systems that we can, partly out of pure interest, but also there may be some excellent ideas in these systems that have been lost. With the advent of emulators and virtual machines, one wonders if any of these old systems could be resurrected and made to work, either as a demo on a webpage, or as a downloadable virtual disk image or similar. Clearly there might be some licensing issues to clear up, but if they are truly historic systems, with no commercial value at all, I cannot see why their owners wouldn’t want them displayed where they can be seen & learned from, rather than sitting in a box of 8-inch floppies.

There are also other areas of GP and health computing that might benefit from curation in some form of archive before they disappear forever, and future generations could learn much from a detailed history of the National Project for IT (NPfIT), which was clearly doomed to failure at the outset by its very approach, and which has wasted billions of pounds of taxpayer money. Remembering this spectacular failure might help to inform future decisions about national IT schemes, and might also help to call some of those responsible to account.

So, a case for an Internet Museum of GP Computing?