On the 1st January 1998, a number of European hospitals and academic as well as industrial partners have started to work on a new three-year project, referred to as NOVICE, or Network Oriented Visualisation in a Clinical Environment. The overall costs amounting to 3.1 Mecu, are partly funded by the European Commission under the ESPRIT programme. The purpose of this joint effort involves the development of extensible Web-based visualisation tools for medical applications, which are suited to function in a High Performance Computing (HPC) environment. The final results will equally comprise the establishment of a Demonstrator and Service Centre at the University of Manchester Visualisation Centre (MVC), a parallel library of 3D image processing functions, and a teleradiology tool, accessible via the Web.
Hospitals today are faced with an increased complexity of image data content and size, which requires sophisticated processing procedures. There are several available solutions to transmit, store, visualise and extract the image information, each with their own characteristic features, and also disadvantages. Manufacturers provide excellent and reliable systems for a clinical environment but these are costly, workstation-based applications with limited scalability and offering no interaction whatsoever with alternative packages. Independent "stand-alone" systems do allow for tailor-made integration and choice of platform but the quality of the clinical viewing systems is poor, as well as the progressing speed to develop the images.
The hybrid Picture Archival Computer Systems or PACS enable the establishment of a filmless department because of their patient management features and record integration capabilities. Unfortunately, they are hardly affordable and most of them simply don't work. In fact, they are not designed as visualisation and image processing systems. Finally, the customised "research applications" are highly configurable and platform independent, offering powerful algorithms and unlimited processing power but at the level of the interface, they absolutely do not meet the hospital requirements.
Therefore, the NOVICE partners strive at creating a set of standalone, platform independent visualisation components for use in a distributed computing environment. The tools have to be based on the Java and Microsoft ActiveX/COM industry standards and operate in compliance with both UNIX and Windows/COM architectures. The HPCN resources will be made accessible through a user friendly interface, which can be supported on an affordable desktop, in order to avoid the investment in high-end graphics workstations. The emphasis has to be put on networked technologies, enabling remote consultations with specialists, as well as efficient re-examination by the physician. The system equally has to provide tools for detecting changes in individual patients over time.
The NOVICE project will run in three phases. First, the four hospital end users in the project, together with key staff belonging to European health care organisations, will try to define their requirements for the identification and prioritisation of visualisation and user interface methods. Second, the partners will develop the basic Computer Aided Medical Diagnostics (CAMD) components, to implement them in a Prototype Demonstrator, and evaluate them in a clinical environment. Third, the other CAMD elements will be designed after initial review of the Prototype Demonstrator.
The Central Manchester Healthcare Trust (CMHT), as one of the end user partners, will install a testing facility, close to the Departments of Diagnostic Radiology, Neuroradiology, Cardiology, Cerebral Function and Nuclear Medicine. This equipment will be provided with standard reporting facilities, such as a typical clinical image review and analysis workstation, based on a powerful Silicon Graphics platform. In order to directly compare the results with those of conventional systems, a network demonstrator will run parallel with the testing facility, which will also have an observer's seat, enabling the control of possible usage problems.
The final goal of NOVICE is to bring together the required expertise to build a European Demonstrator for parallel visual computing, which is accessible to all European hospitals. In this way, the end users in health care facilities are offered the opportunity to easily review the state-of-the-art CAMD tools. Basically, the project partners are aiming to apply the seemingly "ivory tower"-like HPCN technologies for practical, useful and life-improving purposes. For more details on the NOVICE partners and project, we gladly refer to the Manchester Visualisation Centre Web site.