K. C. Lun <email@example.com>
Y. N. Lee
Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore
T. W. Tan
F. K. Chan
Internet Research and Development Unit, National University of Singapore
Cyberspace Hospital (http://ch.nus.sg) was launched by the National University of Singapore on 1 May 1995. To date, it has been visited by some 30,000 people from nearly 80 countries worldwide. It provides one-stop access to global health information resources on the Internet using a virtual hospital setting. Links are achieved through wide-ranging hospital service and specialist departments located on various "floors" of the hospital. It has been featured in a 15-minute science program by the Asahi Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, the British Broadcasting Corporation World News Service, American Hospital Association News, and Asian Hospital Magazine. Encouraged by its success, the developers of Cyberspace Hospital have recently added a Cybermedical School to offer clinical notes and tutorials to medical student communities worldwide. A three-dimensional (3-D) version, written in Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), was also launched on 1 April 1996, making it the world's first virtual reality hospital on the Internet.
The ability of the Internet to link people and places through a global network of computer networks has opened up a new horizon for scientific cooperation and collaboration worldwide. Healthcare professionals have been quick to ride the wave of the Internet revolution by learning to use various kinds of Internet tools that allow them to interact with each other, unrestrained by national and geographical boundaries, time, and distance . They develop collaborative research ideas and exchange information through the use of electronic mails, subscribe to electronic newsgroups and participate in discussion lists. They have the ability to search and locate timely data and information from computers in remote parts of the world using Internet tools like Archie and WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers) and to access and download them using gophers and the World Wide Web . With such information capabilities that the healthcare professional now has, it is therefore not surprising to find a proliferation of health-related WWW sites within the last two years. A reliable estimate places some 500 health-related websites in the English-speaking world dealing with medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, medical technology, and so on. . The need to organize these websites, which are located all over the world, into some kind of logical classification to facilitate their search and access for health information provided the rationale for the creation of Cyberspace Hospital.
Cyberspace Hospital was launched by the National University of Singapore on 1 May 1995. Its primary mission is to assist Internet users-particularly health professionals such as doctors, dentists, nurses, scientists, pharmacists, and administrators-look for useful, state-of-the-art health information resources on the global network. Cyberspace Hospital also caters to the lay audience by helping it access the plethora of information on health education and preventive medicine. The second, and altruistic, mission is to make Singapore an information hub for health and medical resources so that Singapore can be an active provider of information on the Internet and not just a receiver.
Figure 1. One of Cyberspace Hospital's image-mapped floor plans: Level 3, Specialist Departments.
Cyberspace Hospital offers a World Wide Web site that provides a single-node access to health information resources on the Internet in a virtual hospital setting. Information access is achieved through hyperlinks to various medical sites throughout the world. These links are embedded within the virtual hospital's service and specialist departments located on several "floors." Just as in a real hospital, one can find hospital services such as accidents and emergency, pharmacy, nursing, health education, intensive care, clinical laboratories and diagnostic radiology. Cyberspace Hospital even boasts a cafeteria, a news agent, and a shopping arcade where electronic transactions can be carried out for flowers or baby gift baskets. Specialist departments, which are located mainly on levels 3 and 4 of the virtual hospital, include pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery, and oncology. A visitor to any of these departments will find links to an extensive array of websites related to that discipline. A simple mouse click on any of the links will connect the Cyberspace Hospital visitor with the selected website, which might be either in Singapore or in another country half-way round the world. Cyberspace Hospital also features a conference center that helps to publicize health and medical conferences.
As part of a continual effort to upgrade the services offered by Cyberspace Hospital, work is currently in progress to "renovate" each specialist department to offer certain services:
In addition, Cyberspace Hospital offers:
Figure 2. The Cyberspace Hospital Singapore Room
A recent addition to the Cyberspace Hospital is the Singapore Room, which was created in response to many requests from overseas visitors for information on health and health care in Singapore. Visitors to the Singapore Room will be able to connect to all known health-related Singapore Web sites. Most notable of these are:
Some 30,000 users from nearly 80 countries ranging from Austria to Zambia have visited Cyberspace Hospital since its launch. The increasing popularity of Cyberspace Hospital as a global health resource is evident in recent requests from several countries for the virtual hospital to be mirrored. Also, increasingly, requests have been received from several commercial organizations requesting links to their websites in order to promote their goods and services. These include medical insurance, hospital equipment, and medical services.
It is a misconception to believe that the Cyberspace Hospital caters only to professionals. While it is true that the majority of Cyberspace Hospital users are doctors, nurses, healthcare scientists, medical administrators, students, and librarians, it is also true that an increasing number of lay people are accessing the site to obtain health and medical information from various places in the Hospital. The Health Education Department, for example, has many useful links to FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on many types of diseases and medical complaints such as asthma, diabetes, HIV, dementia, Parkinson's disease and cystic fibrosis. The Oncology Department has links to the NCI CancerNet Web server, where state-of-the-art, nontechnical cancer information is available. Visiting the Dermatology Department puts the Cyberspace Hospital visitor in touch with the National Skin Center Web server, where information on common skin problems is available.
Recently, a final-year medical student at the National University Hospital helped a stroke patient download information on his ailment from Cyberspace Hospital. The patient found the information so useful that he immediately signed up for an Internet account with a local service provider in order to access more health information from the Cyberspace Hospital links.
Figure 3. The National University of Singapore Medical Signpost on the Internet
The success of Cyberspace Hospital has encouraged its developers to further expand its services. In the pipeline are Telemedicine, Rehabilitative Medicine and Health Economics and Administration. Last Christmas, a Cybermedical School was added. Developed by a final-year medical student, Cybermed evolved from the Cyberspace Hospital Student Center. The idea of a student center came from a medical student visitor from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, who suggested that Cyberspace Hospital should also cater to the information needs of medical student communities worldwide. In response to this request, Cybermed was established and now offers a rich collection of clinical notes and tutorials.
Figure 4. 3-D Cyberspace Hospital.
On 1 April 1996, a 3-D version of Cyberspace Hospital was launched, earning it the distinction of being the first virtual reality hospital on the Internet. Scripted in VRML, 3-D Cyberspace Hospital offers the visitor the sensation of walking through a hospital building. At the same time, the 3-D version provides the full information services of the 2-D HTML (hypertext markup language) version. At various locations of the virtual hospital building are doors that provide the interface to the various service and specialist departments of the 2-D hospital. Clicking on each door will launch the corresponding HTML page on another window of the WWW browser. 3-D Cyberspace Hospital is best viewed with Netscape's Live3D, the VRML plug-in from Netscape Communications.
The Internet is set to be in the forefront of the new age of technological revolution. With the explosive growth of the World Wide Web in recent months, health and medical websites are evolving faster than a spider can spin its web. Searching for information has become an increasingly daunting task for the Net novice. The availability of Cyberspace Hospital, which attempts to organize health and medical information in tandem with their growth, has proven to be an invaluable resource for people wishing to find information on general health, preventive medicine, specific diseases, and specialist care and treatment on the Internet. As these resources grow, we can expect the physician, the patient, and the public to benefit by being better informed individuals in the years to come, able to have easy access to timely, state-of-the-art information and able to make better informed judgment about health and medical problems, their treatment and their management.
(Cyberspace Hospital, the world's first virtual reality hospital, can be accessed on the Internet World Wide Web at the following address: <http://ch.nus.sg>. It is also available from the Internet 1996 World Exposition Medical Pavilion at the following URL: <http://park.org/Pavilions/Medical>)