Medical students get clean online practice with "The Virtual Autopsy"

Leicester 15 October 1998 As a preclinical medical student, you don't necessarily have to manipulate the scalpel anymore in somewhat "messy" sessions to cut up corpses and learn about the secrets of diagnostics or to find out the typical symptoms of mortal disease. Tim Taylor, a student at Leicester Medical School, has introduced an instructive medical quiz on the World Wide Web to offer his fellow-students at the University of Leicester an online teaching resource to expand their knowledge on the human body in all its different aspects. "The Virtual Autopsy" site presents twelve autopsy cases with the intention to determine the cause of death for each of them.

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As a preclinical medical student, you don't necessarily have to manipulate the scalpel anymore in somewhat "messy" sessions to cut up corpses and learn about the secrets of diagnostics or to find out the typical symptoms of mortal disease. Tim Taylor, a student at Leicester Medical School, has introduced an instructive medical quiz on the World Wide Web to offer his fellow-students at the University of Leicester an online teaching resource to expand their knowledge on the human body in all its different aspects. "The Virtual Autopsy" site presents twelve autopsy cases with the intention to determine the cause of death for each of them.

Initially, the site has been set up as a Special Study Module for a course, followed by designer Tim Taylor. Because of the success and the enthusiastic demand the initiative encountered among his colleagues, the online educational tool has been enriched with additional cases and useful tutorials. The Leicester students can access the Internet with a simple Web browser to carry out virtual autopsies and learn from their mistakes, since they are able to backtrack and correct themselves. Once the exercise has been performed, the student is presented a list of choices from which to define the exact cause of death.

The medical trainee is invited to select one of the twelve different cases and to execute the virtual autopsy by clicking on a particular part of the virtual body which he suspects to unveil relevant information about the patient's illness and decease. Each virtual organ provides the student with useful hints related to the official death cause. Just as in real life conditions, the trainee slowly has to proceed and collect the medical data for analysis and for progressive exclusion of possible diagnoses until one arises as the most probable cause for the terminal illness.

A set of mini-tutorials has been integrated in order to help the student find his way in the various aspects of anatomy and physiology which are relevant to the cases, presented in the "Virtual Autopsy". The online library includes scientific information on the anatomy of heart and coronary vessels, the respiratory system, the central nervous system, the genito-urinary system, the liver and portal vessels, as well as the gastro-intestinal structures. Tim Taylor also has provided a detailed evaluation section for the trainee to express his comments on the value of the teaching tool. In this way, the site can be adapted to the needs of the students who are using it.

Users are equally stimulated to add interesting cases to the "Virtual Autopsy" site to keep the tool as flexible and instructive as possible. Of course, it should be clear that this kind of online training courses is only meant for educational purposes and not as public medical information resource for patients. "The Virtual Autopsy" training programme is hosted at the Web site of the University of Leicester.


Leslie Versweyveld

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