The heart of the matter

A pioneer of IT in medical practice, Dr Geoff Clayton is now using the Web to fight disease

A pioneer of IT in medical practice, Dr Geoff Clayton is now using the Web to fight disease

It is a common misconception that people who work in IT are the only ones who understand computing, writes Roisin Woolnough. Another myth is that this knowledge is confined to the younger generations who have grown up using computers from an early age. But Dr Geoff Clayton, a 70-year-old retired doctor disproves both theories.

Clayton first became interested in computers in the 1960s and wrote a program to organise all his patients' details, written in Cobol on the operating system George. It ran on an ICL 1900, using punched cards for input. Bletchley Park is to include the punch card machine in its museum.

"I was one of the pioneers using IT in medical practice," says Clayton. Indeed, members of the Primary Health Care Specialist Group of the British Computer Society (BCS) were so impressed with Clayton's efforts that in 1981 they elected him as their first chairman.

In 1989 Clayton wrote a program called Takeheart. This assesses the likelihood of a person developing coronary heart disease.

"Takeheart is written in a language called Sensible, a compilable language similar to Cobol," says Clayton. "It's old fashioned - out of date, in fact - and it works in Dos. But my motto is 'if it works, don't fix it'. I thought about trying Access, but it's so fragile that I left it how it is."

Takeheart won Clayton the BCS's John Perry Prize for outstanding contribution to primary healthcare computing in 1990.

Clayton's latest IT venture started a year ago when he decided to put Takeheart on the Web. "When you retire, you need something to keep you going," he explains. "I wanted to do something that would use both my medical experience and my interest in computers. One of my sons suggested I put Takeheart on the Web, so I did."

The site,, is written in HTML, with a bit of Javascript, and uses the Internet service provider Frontier. Clayton is the only technical bod on the site, which he says took him a week to get up and running. "But I am always tinkering with it and incorporating new ideas," he says.

Clayton has a couple of friends working in IT who advise him when he is thinking of improving the site and he is an avid reader of the IT manuals he finds in his local library.

"I intend to get the question and answer bit of the site automated. I will have to learn a bit of Perl for that," says Clayton.

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