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Second Life Being Used in Medical Training

2009 July 20

A report has come out about various medical schools running in Second Life, where students can participate in a wide variety of simulations of real medical scenarios.  Imperial College London, San Jose State University, and the University of Auckland are mentioned specifically.  Now, it may seem like the fidelity of such simulations couldn’t be very high, but consider this snippet about the Nursing Education Simulation (NESIM):

For sims like these, students wear a heads-up display, similar to those used by pilots, which shows data like the patient’s blood pressure, heart rhythm, and medical history. Then they click on objects such as a medication dispenser or the controls of an IV pump. When an object is clicked on, it triggers another heads-up display, allowing students to select, for instance, a certain medication, the dosage, and how to administer it (by mouth, injection, etc.). Importantly, the patient avatar will react realistically—if the student gives him too much nitroglycerine, for example, the avatar’s blood pressure will sink and he’ll go into shock.

Only two things seem different to me: 1) consulting actual machine output has been replaced by referencing the HUD and 2) instead of interacting with a person next to you, interaction takes place virtually.

I don’t think #1 would really inhibit transfer (the application of principles learned in training to the “real world”), so the concern is around #2.  But medicine has been using virtual interaction with patients for a long time – after all, you can’t force a person to experience a postpartum-hemorrage (the subject of the above quote) so that students can experience in a controlled environment.  So instead, dummies and CD-ROMs have been the norm in medical education for quite some time, and perhaps Second Life isn’t all that different.

One of the biggest advantages to Second Life is cost.  Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, for example, has a state-of-the-art training facility for medical education.  And although its fidelity is probably quite high, so was its pricetag – $2.5 million.  A Second Life simulation by comparison is pennies, as a decent programmer can often be hired to build a simulation for $1000 or less, not to mention the saving on the cost of running the physical facility.

Of course, having said all of this, research is still lacking in the effectiveness of virtual world training.  A few scattered studies have tackled it, but nothing too substantial just yet.  I suppose that just means my lab will be busy in the fall!

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