Pioneering GP who created world's first general practice computer system has died

Dr John Preece, the GP who co-designed the world's first GP computer system with IBM in 1969, has died at the age of 93.

Dr John Preece (Photo: Dr Preece's family)
Dr John Preece (Photo: Dr Preece's family)

Dr Preece, who died earlier this month, was a GP in Exeter and also a research fellow at Exeter University where he worked to develop early computer systems for use in general practice and community pharmacy.

He was the first GP to use a computer – the IBM model he co-designed – during a patient consultation in his practice in Whipton, near Exeter in 1970. The event featured on the popular BBC programme Tomorrow's World at the time.

His work led to the development of the electronic patient record and was the foundation for a project that in 1975 saw a practice in Ottery St Mary, also near Exeter, become the world's first paperless general practice.

Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking Ottery St Mary project went on to develop the first computer prescription form. Dr Preece's work designing and developing an electronic drugs database and prescribing software led to the Department of Health approving computer prescriptions for national use in 1981. That decision has been credited as a key factor in the widespread adoption of the use of computers in general practice and helped save doctors' time and improve patient safety.

Dr Preece was also the highly-respected editor of Practice Computing magazine for eight years from 1989 to 1997 and wrote The Use of Computers in General Practice, which was first published in 1983 and became the definitive text on general practice computing. Subsequent editions were issued in 1990, 1994 and 2000.

Dr Preece retired from his practice in Whipton after 31 years in 1988. Although he became world-renowned for his work in computing, Dr Preece's obituary notice highlights that he remained 'devoted to his patients' during his career. He once undertook 60 home visits during a measles epidemic in one day, alongisde completing his regular morning and evening surgeries.

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