Near the dawn of the Internet age, three University of Iowa radiologists created a laboratory to see how successful this new World Wide Web would be for educating future doctors. By 1992 they were providing electronic textbooks to their students in something they called Virtual Hospital, located at www.vh.org. Their model was a library—a digital library to be sure. Their role was to serve as curators of this new library—collecting the best information available and transforming it to a digital state that could be delivered anywhere,anytime it was needed.
Their colleagues at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine embraced the new technology. Suddenly entire textbooks of information on radiology, anatomy, pediatrics, family medicine, surgery, cardiology, emergency medicine and pathology appeared on the shelves of this new library. Authors retained the rights to their work and at the same time donated it entirely for the world to use. Imagine the delight of students in this country and abroad to have access right from their desktop to some of the best medical information available in their subject area.
The content itself was amazing: a complete guide for the practice of family medicine, an atlas of human anatomy in cross section, a guide to abnormal human anatomy, a course to set up and maintain a certified clinical laboratory and a step-by-step protocol for correcting club foot without surgery, to name a few. Interestingly, some of the most prolific authors were those at retirement age and beyond. Here was a chance for their teaching legacy to live on. Lecture notes and dusty trays of 35mm slides were made available to new, virtual lecture halls of students, and translations into dozens of languages made that global reach a reality. What these three entrepreneurial radiologists soon discovered was that information of this caliber and detail was not entirely the domain of MDs and MDs-to-be. Patients and their families were also interested in knowing what the doctor knows. Virtual Hospital quickly became a library without boundaries, where patient information and provider information were available to everyone.
The three visionaries who launched Virtual Hospital—Jeffery Galvin, MD; William Erkonen, MD; and Michael D’Alessandro, MD—are no strangers to awards like the one bestowed on Virtual Hospital today. Their experiment garnered some of the web’s highest recognition during its heyday from 1995 to 2005. While some of the sites and organizations showering their awards on Virtual Hospital have dimmed or disappeared from the scene, others continue to be household names: Apple, Microsoft, Britannica, USA Today, Scientific American, the National Library of Medicine and the Department of Defense.
A visit to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine will transport you to the complete pages of vh.org, frozen in the early years of this new century. Because you can access those archived pages easily today is testament to one of Virtual Hospital guiding principles: to ensure an optimal educational experience through simplicity and clarity in design.