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    Posted December 7, 2008 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Stories from Second Life

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    Exploring medical training in Second Life - Imperial College London's Virtual Medical School



    At the recent AMIA panel discussion I attended in Second Life (see http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-149486)  a presentation was made by Lancelot Spitteler (rl James Kinross) of Imperial College London, who talked about Second Health Hospital in Second Life. This virtual hospital was created by Imperial College London in accordance with the recommendations set out in the London Strategic Health Authority's report "Healthcare for London: A Framework for Action". It is an interesting way of using Second Life to present the recommendations of the document in a tangible way, allowing the public to explore and experience a possible future healthcare delivery system, as well as comment upon it, before it is implemented in the real world.



    Following Dr. Kinross's presentation, Davee Commerce (rl Dave Taylor), also of Imperial College London, took the audience on a tour of a second sim housing several of the university's research projects. This is a medical school where Davee Commerce and his virtual team are developing and validating tools for training medical students and healthcare professionals. Mr. Taylor had previously set up and run the UK National Physical Laboratory virtual worlds business area and is now the Programme Lead of Virtual Worlds and Medical Media at Imperial College London, which is a new unit that was created to develop the use of virtual worlds for healthcare.  Following the panel discussion and tour I contacted Mr. Taylor for more information. He took me on an in-depth tour of the medical school, explaining how it is being used now and may be used in the future.



    I met Mr. Taylor outside of the facility, which currently is not open to the public. The exterior has a very futuristic look; no attempt has been made to mimic the appearance of a real life hospital or university campus. Visitors sign in before entering and receive a HUD which makes it possible to watch videos that are available at different stations within the hospital. I followed Mr. Taylor along a walkway that passes over the operating and recovery rooms, and then entered into an area where surgeons would go to get their gowns. From this point on in the tour all the areas we visited were based upon surgical suites in St. Mary's Hospital, and contrary to the exterior and the walkway, look much like the real ones.



    After picking up the gowns, we followed arrows on the floor that took us to the scrub up room. At this point masks are picked up and worn, and there is a machinima on how to scrub up. If someone has not scrubbed up or put on a mask, they are reminded to do so. Once inside the operating room itself, there are machinima describing all the different instruments. The machinima can be accessed by clicking on the different objects in the room.  Following this we went to the recovery room, filled with beds just as in rl.  One of the beds was occupied by a patient programmed to respond to questions typically asked after surgery.



    At the moment the Medical School is being used for research into whether or not virtual worlds can be useful for medical training. One experiment that was recently done to test for this involved splitting a class of medical students into three groups: one group learned about operating room procedures by reading and lectures, one had access to a real world simulated operating room and one group used the SL site.  Those who used the SL site were found to be the most comfortable upon first entering a real operating room.



    Other kinds of training are being investigated as well. Another operating room is set up to practice positioning the patient for different kinds of surgery.  A third operating room focused on the use of robotics in surgery.



    Training nurses in the use of different medical devices is also being explored. In SL there is the luxury of being able to create all sorts of different circumstances and situations, some that may rarely occur in rl, so it is possible that healthcare workers can enter the field more prepared than ever before.



    The reaction of those who have done some training at the Medical School has been positive. Many had not known of virtual worlds and Second Life to begin with, and were surprised at how real the experience is.  Mr. Taylor said that they have found people quickly develop a very strong identification with their avatars, a big step into making interactions between the group members themselves as well as with their environments meaningful and authentic.



    After leaving the hospital, Mr. Taylor took me to a new sim, Second Health Phase 2 by Imperial College. This sim includes a polyclinic that is set in the middle of a realistic looking community. We arrived in Second Health Phase 2 at an underground station. Along the walls of the staircase to the street were posters with messages about stress and how it can be treated by getting in touch with a general practitioner. Once at street level there were signs to the polyclinic. On the way to the polyclinic were the usual buildings and businesses that can be found in an urban area, a pub, a fast food restaurant and a corner store. At each of these were health warnings and information, for instance about alcohol consumption at the pub, and how by visiting the polyclinic and consulting with a gp, individuals can learn more about disease prevention by following a healthy lifestyle. The emphasis is on disease prevention rather than treatment in this sim.



    Imperial College London has been active in Second Life for approximately two years now. During that period they have created three sims dealing with different aspects of healthcare provision and offering the potential for the use of virtual worlds such as Second Life in many different ways: training for healthcare workers, experimentation into different methods of teaching, involving the general public in learning about healthcare as well as healthcare planning. If this use of virtual worlds is found to be effective then a revolution in teaching training methods might be upon us.



    Second Health Phase 2 (178, 185, 22)



    1. Exterior of Medical School



    2. Entering into surgical unit



    3. Scrubbing up



    4. Operating room



    5. Davee Commerce talks with patient in recovery room



    6. Second Health Phase 2 Polyclinic and surroundings



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