Teaching and learning human anatomy through Internet-based customizable imagery database

Gaithersburg 18 January 1999 Within the framework of the Advanced Technology Programme, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded A.D.A.M. Software, Inc. with a $1,262 million grant to set up a database management system for medical education. The multi-level, authoring tool is designed to be used on the Internet and will present customized, multimedia imagery of the human body, enabling both educators and students to modify, expand and annotate the medical illustration materials of human anatomy. By the year 2000, the project will be finished and the database will be ready for use by hospitals, physicians, health care organizations as well as the commercial community of software vendors and publishers.

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Within the framework of the Advanced Technology Programme, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded A.D.A.M. Software, Inc. with a $1,262 million grant to set up a database management system for medical education. The multi-level, authoring tool is designed to be used on the Internet and will present customized, multimedia imagery of the human body, enabling both educators and students to modify, expand and annotate the medical illustration materials of human anatomy. By the year 2000, the project will be finished and the database will be ready for use by hospitals, physicians, health care organizations as well as the commercial community of software vendors and publishers.

In the United States, there is a great need for health and medical information among the millions of health care takers, patients, consumers, and medical students of all levels. Annual costs to provide this kind of data are estimated to amount to over $1 billion. In general, the use of all sorts of medical imagery is thought to constitute the best educational tool in order to illustrate the complicated structure, dynamics, and physiology of the human body. Unfortunately, teachers are often restricted in the choice for electronic materials to CD-Roms with predetermined visual packages for specific aims. They do not necessarily meet the requirements, expressed in the curriculum of the medical or nursing schools.

For this purpose, the National Institute of Standards and Technology started a two year project of $2,525 million for the delivery of an adaptive learning system to assist medical educators in their difficult task. Half of the funding has been granted to A.D.A.M. Software to develop client/server multimedia software tools in a web based three-tiered authoring system. In this way, the user will be offered smooth and reliable access to dynamic illustrations of the human body whereas teachers will be allowed to customize the images for sophisticated online instruction. The A.D.A.M. solution enables medical educators to insert personal annotations and introduce specific animations or anatomical layers for "dissection" training.

The teachers can link their own visual components and customized imagery to materials in networked databases. The multilevel system will consist of Internet based client software tools to integrate, annotate or simply view the course elements. A mid-level "server" forms the second tier and deals with requests from the clients for the transmission of custom-tailored imagery and data in the networked structure. The third tier constitutes a high-level relational database system for the monitoring and co-ordination of comprehensive, distributed collections of images or newly added contents. Thus, medical educators will dispose of a highly interactive tool to help their students unveil the secrets of human anatomy.

The biggest challenge for A.D.A.M. lies in the sending of extensive files with high resolution images and movies over relatively low bandwidth connections with an acceptable performance. This includes the creation of algorithms to compress and decompress the visual data while negotiating the bandwidth restrictions. Another problem which needs solving relates to the storage and retrieval of the new materials generated by the medical educators.

The final evaluation of the system will take place at the Usability Center in Dunwoody, Georgia. In the end, not only the medical community will benefit from the proposed technology but also several other economical sectors. Educators across hundreds of markets form an ideal target to empower the quality of data-rich application and teaching tools. Please, check out further details of the A.D.A.M. database in the VMW article Adam Software to reveal inner workings of human body on the Internet or at the NIST Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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