IBM 'online theater' may boost care at Boston hospital

By Owen Fletcher, IDG News Service |  Internet, IBM, web services

IBM is working with a Boston hospital to develop a browser-based application that uses mashups to let medical experts in different locations study patient data as if they were sitting side by side, IBM said Thursday.

The application, which runs on IBM's Blue Spruce platform, lets experts collaborate over the Web in a browser window that displays feeds ranging from a high-definition video conference to patient scans and charts.

A group of staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital of Boston have been testing the platform as a way to bring together analysis from experts with different specialties, said Francine Jacobson, a thoracic radiologist at the hospital.

The application lets a radiologist reviewing a CAT scan, for example, also obtain analysis from a patient's lung test, data that could lend insight to the CAT scan but that radiologists often neglect, she said.

Live or recorded interaction in the program could also be used to train physicians on computers at both ends of a connection, Jacobson added.

The application includes a virtual whiteboard that lets observers on one end immediately see markups drawn by an expert on the other computer's screen. That ability lets the two or more sides point out problems to each other in a patient scan.

The program is useful enough to potentially become used worldwide, according to Jacobson, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

"At any level, it can be used to bring together patient data," she said.

Although the Blue Spruce platform is still being developed in IBM's research labs, the company has already used it to build a system for Reuters that lets traders collaborate in real time between continents.

One of the difficult hurdles IBM overcame was getting separate data feeds in the mashups to communicate with each other, such as when clicking on an image in one feed should reorient a map in another, said David Boloker, CTO of IBM's emerging technologies, told reporters at a research presentation on Thursday.

Internet users will be able to design their own applications for the platform when it is released in June, Boloker said.

IBM Blue Spruce
IBM's Blue Spruce platform combines several widgets in a browser-based application and lets people work collaboratively online, with videconferencing and the ability to annotate documents and have those annotations appear instantly on other users' screens. Shown here is a health application developed with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
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