Visualization Technology in Medical Education

By Hallgren, Richard C.; Gorbis, Sherman | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), January 1999 | Go to article overview
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Visualization Technology in Medical Education

Hallgren, Richard C., Gorbis, Sherman, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


We are using three-dimensional, visualization technology to enhance the learning process of medical students as they acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for clinical evaluation and treatment of the musculoskeletal system.

Visualization technology offers the possibility of profoundly changing the way in which students assimilate and process new information by giving them the ability to interactively explore biomechanical components of the human body and to investigate the effects that changes in physical properties can have upon functionality. These materials, designed to serve as an adjunct to teaching strategies that faculty are currently using, are available to students on campus through the Kobiljak Resource Center at Michigan State University (MSU) College of Osteopathic Medicine and via the Internet to individuals and groups who are physically removed from the MSU campus.

Development of Medical Informatics

Medical informatics is a rapidly developing scientific discipline that addresses the use of technology for optimizing storage, retrieval and management of information required for problem solving and decision making. Instead of thinking of technology as a curse that makes life more complex, we like to think of it as a blessing that makes the complexities of life more manageable. The Medical Informatics Advisory Panel ( of the Association of American Medical Colleges has identified five major roles played by physicians -- Life-long Learner, Clinician, Educator/Communicator, Researcher and Manager -- in which medical informatics plays a vital part. Our project addresses two of these: As a life-long learner, a physician needs to keep abreast of advances and to retain proficiency within his or her field of medicine; As an Educator/Communicator, the physician needs to be an effective teacher of students and communicator with patients.

The Internet has facilitated the dissemination of scientific information throughout the world. One of the more notable projects on the Internet is the National Library of Medicine's (NLM) Visible Human Project (, a collection of online digital images of complete male and female cadavers for use in medical research. The Internet also provides medical educators with an opportunity to deliver interactive technology to a target audience both locally and over large distances. Unfortunately, the simple presentation of information is not a sufficient condition for learning to occur. Effective learning tools must engage the student, causing them to assimilate new information and to construct meaning from it in terms of what they already know. While computer-based learning modules (CBLMs) offer distinct advantages over material in printed form, commercial software has not specifically addressed the unique needs of an osteopathic medical student to visualize and understand concepts that are space/time dependent.

Historically, visualization technology has been used in two separate and distinct environments. The scientific and engineering community has used it to convey information to a viewer. The entertainment industry has used it to engage a viewer. The perceived utility of visualization techniques took a quantum leap forward when the entertainment industry realized that computers could be used to create special effects in movies. Shortly after that, the scientific community realized that there was potential for not only presenting information but also for holding a viewer's attention while it was being presented.

Unfortunately, until recently, the cost of hardware and software required to develop and deliver a sophisticated visualization application placed these tools beyond the reach of the average educator. But now, as computational speed continues to increase and cost continues to drop, what we could only dream of doing in the mid-1980s has now become reality.

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