Rural health bonds by virtual reality

The parallels between Silicon Graphics Inc.’s Visual Area Network and the technology deployed by Ontario’s NORTH telehealth network are not lost on Dr. Greg Ross.

An associate dean of research at the new twin-campus Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Ross believes the Silicon Graphics (SGI) technology will better equip his graduate doctors for deployment across the Northern Ontario Remote Telecommunication Health (NORTH) network.

“The physicians we train will all be using telehealth up here in the remote areas of the province. There’s a real shortage of doctors in these rural parts,” said Ross.

“Telemedicine is a big reality in northern Ontario and the similarity with SGI’s virtual reality technology will help doctors feel more comfortable and familiar with the equipment being used in the field.”

The enhanced 3D visualization allows students to immerse themselves in a learning environment of pseudo physiological assessment and virtual disease diagnosis. It’s a laboratory with a distinctive telemedicine outlook, a portal into the world of remote doctors, simulated examination and videoconference patient interviews.

Northern Ontario’s new medical school is a collaborative enterprise between Laurentian University in Sudbury and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, with campuses 1,000km apart. Earlier this month 56 prospective medical doctors began their classes by distributed education.

“As a distributed school, transparency between the two campuses is absolutely critical for us,” said Ross. “I don’t want to see one terabyte of information at Laurentian and another 4TB at Lakehead; I need to know I have dedicated access to 5TB in northern Ontario.”

Ross doesn’t view the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NorMed) as two separate campuses. “What we have is a storage-area network for one school that serves pan-northern Ontario,” he said.

The visual area networking software, SGI OpenGL Vizserver, allows students and lecturers to collaborate on research and learning projects, working with interactive 3D images of molecular models, triads of atoms, MRI and CT scans, and the anatomy of organs and bones.

“This kind of [computing] infrastructure has opened a lot opportunities for us,” said Ross, who joined NorMed from Queen’s University in Kingston. “We can study the physiology of the inner ear, right down to the protein level of the molecule. We can take a micro-second of physiology and turn it into long hours of supercomputing.”

The Virtual Reality Lab is hosted by Laurentian University’s not-for-profit research and development company, Mirarco (Mining Innovation, Rehabilitation and Applied Research Corporation). The lab houses SGI Prism and Onyx visualization systems.

QuickLink: 051022

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