Category Archives: Health Industry

Vanderbilt nurses: a case study

Tech website TMCnet has a very useful overview of Vanderbilt University’s use of Second Life with their nursing students. For the seasoned observer there’s nothing particularly new but if you’re only starting to familiarise yourself with the area, it’s an excellent read.

The article is useful in another way: it reinforces where health professionals are broadly up to in this area”

1. Acknowledgement of the potential

2. Utilisation of consumer tools like Second Life, supported by significant funding

3. Demonstrable positive experiences, within a broad simulation environment

There remains real challenges to delivering clinical simulation for more intricate or non-pyschosocial aspects of care delivery. The ability to do fine procedural work remains limited outside of expensive proprietary systems, but rapid progress is being made. The pace of the progress continues to grow and it’s a fairly safe prediction that more immersive and complex simulations will be avilable to undergraduate students in under five years.

Texture breakthrough: clinical simulation implications

A story over at New Scientist caught my eye today. It describes a new approach to developing textured 3D objects that provides much greater realism for relatively less work, particularly for amateur content creators:

The potential of this in clinical simulation is fairly obvious. Whether it be surgery or anatomical exploration, expect to see some of those expected evolutionary improvements in quality just a little bit sooner. Developments like this also illustrate the importance of graphical accuracy in simulation – the more easy it becomes to manipulate objects in a realistic way, the better the outcomes garnered.

Second Life: declining as education platform of choice?

This story appeared earlier in the week over at The Metaverse Journal under the title ‘Why Second Life is already second-best for education’.

The announcement by Linden Lab in the past 24 hours that their discounting of pricing for educators and non-profits would cease in January 2011, has engendered the expected level of outrage. And rightly so, given the critical mass of educators that have generated significant outcomes for Second Life. In fact, it could be argued that it’s only the good news stories generated by the non-profits that have helped offset some of the negative aspects inflated by parts of the mainstream media and others. The comments section below the announcement is well worth a read: even taking out the initial emotion, the overwhelming attitude is that it’s time to downsize or move on. Of course, the migration to OpenSim grids is already well underway, for a range of reasons.

As someone who follows virtual worlds pretty closely, I thought I understood the specific reasons for the move from Second Life fairly well. However, I only got the full picture over the past month, when I needed to explore options for my own education-related build. Without boring you with detail, I’m looking at conducting some research that will involve some fairly complex simulations. When I wrote the proposal for the research, I was already assuming that Second Life wouldn’t necessarily be the platform due to cost constraints (and this was before the price-rise announcement). That assumption was confirmed after some detailed discussions with a number of people, including someone developing a number of education-related projects including one aligned with my own proposal.

Based on those discussions and my own observations, here’s the key reasons I’ll not be working in Second Life for my education project (and most likely using either Unity3D, OpenSim or both):

Content creation: Although SL provides some great scripting options, the learning curve is significant and there’s minimal support for defacto design and modelling platforms. This leads to the need to either hire an SL builder or give up a significant chunk of time to learn a scripting language that’s not transferable elsewhere (except in some respects to OpenSim).

Structured learning: There is minimal ability in SL to guide avatars through particular experiences. Heads-up displays can work to some extent, but the scene-by-scene capability of Unity3D is head and shoulders above.

Reliability: ignoring historical challenges, the fact remains that down-time in SL is totally at the mercy of Linden Lab. A standalone OpenSim grid or a Unity3D installation aren’t as susceptible.

Client: SL being still being a standalone client makes it a bigger challenge to use for education that a web-based client. That may change in the medium-term but it’s a deal-breaker for purposes where dedicated PCs aren’t an option.

Ease of use: One of the key weaknesses of SL is it’s ease of use, particularly for new users. It’s something that has improved and will continue to improve. Although competitors aren’t markedly better, they certainly aren’t worse.

I want to make an important point: Second Life deserves to continue to grow and I’m still confident it will, albeit with a very different focus to what it has now. The decision on education pricing fits the wider business model as it now stands. Even that is fine, if it’s based on confidence of a new market and unshakeable faith that the current shortcomings of SL will be overcome soon enough. On the face of it, that market isn’t apparent and the improvements still seem a while away.

I’d love to hear from educators / non-profits at the coalface. Emotions aside – have you started considering moving away from Second Life, and if so why?

Update: Linden Lab have made a follow-up statement with a rather interesting take on things.

Informed consent for medical procedures: the use of virtual environments

imperialcollege Dr Suzanne Conboy Hill is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Brighton in the UK. She appeared on Radio National’s Future Tense program this morning, talking about her involvement in a virtual hospital project that I’ve mentioned here previously.

It’s an interview well worth listening to for the passion Dr Conboy Hill shows for the topic and her belief on the opportunities virtual worlds provide around informed consent for medical procedures by those with some form of mental impairment. It’s an area I hadn’t thought about much, but it makes sense that an immersive 3D environment would be an ideal medium to promote understanding of medical procedures in a non-threatening environment.

The key challenge at this stage is giving the level of access to provide those benefits in a more widespread way. Additionally, equipping current students of health sciences with the knowledge to navigate such environments is another challenge in an already crowded curriculum in most circumstances.

The same episode of Future Tense also has a short interview with me on the media hype cycle with virtual worlds, their role in education and the precedents likely to be set by the pending class action against Linden Lab on intellectual property grounds.

Medico-legal aspects of virtual worlds and health

The Economist has an interesting article on the use of Second Life in training people around virtual consent. It’s an area where a virtual world has strengths (the ability to recreate a real-world situation) without some of the downfalls (lack of clinical complexity due to technological limitations).


Another aspect that has struck me over the past year is just how strong the UK is in virtual worlds and health. The Imperial College London (where this training exercise is being hosted) is one of the shining lights worldwide, with a number of other UK institutions undertaking research.

Health Beyond 2009 – e-health, Serious Games and Second Life

As a Registered Nurse with a passion for the use of emerging technologies to improve health, it can sometimes be a little frustrating when things don’t seem to progress as fast as one would like. There’s also the ‘they just don’t get it’ phenomenon amongst some in health leadership and management roles, which can lead to the conclusion that progress is all too slow with new approaches.

A stark contrast to that is occurring this week in Melbourne, Australia, with the HealthBeyond e-health Consumer Day. I was very happy to be invited to attend this event to provide participants with a tour of some key health presences in Second Life in conjunction with what will no doubt be an engaging keynote from Mandy Salomon . It’ll be difficult to choose which health areas in Second Life with so many great options, but I do know the University of Plymouth’s sexual health sim is going to feature.


It’s great to see the Health Informatics Society of Australia taking such a lead, featuring virtual worlds, serious games for health and broader gaming for exercise and stimulation in a get-together of this calibre. I have a feeling there’s going to be some exciting announcements come out of the gathering for the Australian health sector, which I’ll report on in coming weeks.

USA healthcare reform: Obama and Second Life

Over the past few days, there’s been quite a bit of buzz around the latest piece created by the talented Draxtor Despres. It reports on discussions held on US Healthcare reform in Second Life that will be looked at by the incoming Obama administration as part of much wider community consultations going on at present.

Watch the report for yourself:

Student British Medical Journal gets the virtual worlds picture

The December Student BMJ has an excellent overview of the growing use of Second Life for medical simulation.

The collaborative and immersive meetings aspects are also covered and although the article is pitched at non-virtual world users, it provides a balanced summary of goings-on to date.

A big thanks to Mal Burns for the heads-up.

A follow-up on World AIDS Day in Second Life

On the Linden Lab blog, Pathfinder Linden has written on the successful World AIDS Day initiative in Second Life, run by the Karuna organisation. He’s coined the phrase ‘Ecosystems of Support’ and it’s very fitting for initatives like this.

Over the past six months, there’s been a significant momentum build in regards to health and virtual worlds, and certainly support networks are pivotal within that development. The challenge is convincing the wider circle of health professionals, individuals seeking help or support and their families / friends that virtual worlds offer another option that can make a real difference.