NSW med students enter Web collaboration

In another positive step towards harmonizing healthcare and technology, staff and students at the University of New South Wales' faculty of medicine have started collaborating via its new in-house Web application, dubbed eMed.

The faculty's IT manager Jim Leeper said a number of applications to help manage the curriculum have been developed with the main system, eMed, an application that holds high-level information about courses over the six years of the degree.

"It looks at what students are doing over the medicine program," Leeper said. "You can see where your lectures fit in and it allows students to evaluate the program so they can see how much of a particular specialty is delivered over six years."

eMed schedules student activities and can send alerts via e-mail and potentially SMS. Students also submit all their work through eMed which can then be assessed by the academics. The results are then republished discreetly.

Leeper said eMed can be accessed online via the Web or with the Notes client.

"All students access eMed via the Web which was a necessity due to the number of distributed locations," he said. "Staff members can collaborate over course design."

Some 625 staff and students have access to eMed but this is expected to expand to around 1700 within six years as new students join the program.

Since eMed was designed specifically for the UNSW medicine program, and for managing the training of new doctors, a decision was made to build the application "early on".

"We looked at what's commercially available and there was nothing that specifically fit our needs," Leeper said. "There are a lot of curriculum mapping tools but no supplier could do everything and we would have had to bring dissimilar systems together anyway. It's very targeted to our program and we didn't consider selling it."

Hosted in-house on Dell and Windows 2003 infrastructure, Leeper said Lotus Domino was chosen because the faculty has been a "Domino shop" for many years and has built up internal skills.

"We had a think about other platforms but Domino was chosen for its security, design, and ease of maintenance," he said. "Domino is flexible in the development approach. We could develop quick prototypes to get feedback from academics."

IBM business partner Online Corporate Software's CEO Tim Royale said the advantage of Domino for collaboration is it's a "one-stop-shop".

"The UI, application development and data environments all rolled into one," Royale said. "There are strong advantages of a document database which has a strong audit trail."

eMed doesn't yet integrate with the student's e-mail accounts but the faculty intends to publish its tools as Web services which will facilitate a unified student portal.

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