Ingenious use of tech: Training Med Students in Second Life (virtual) Hospitals

July 21, 2009

Discover Magazine asks Can Training in Second Life Teach Doctors to Save Real Lives? While many in the tech world are looking at the ARRA Stimulus Bill’s money being spent on EMRs and giving the world the thousandth version of a medical records system it’s great to see some creative technologists are using their brains on simulations and training programs that could actually make better doctors, not just more efficient administrators. Here’s one of the main benefits:

Of course, arguably the most significant benefit of SL training is the cost. Real-life training facilities require thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars to build and maintain, not to mention travel expenses for students and faculty. For example, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover, N.H., built a state-of-the-art training facility with rooms, dummies, equipment, and software. The price tag? Over $2.5 million. The sophisticated mannequins used by medical schools cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. But SL simulation rooms can be created for minimal costs, and accessed from anywhere in the world for the price of an Internet connection.

But it’s not all rosy — there hasn’t been enough evidence gathered yet, which the Discover article points out.

Critics have pointed out that there are plenty of unanswered questions about health-care education in SL, and that little empirical research has been done to see if it really works. For their part, schools with SL programs are slowly but surely gathering data on the virtual world’s effectiveness. At Imperial College London, David Taylor, director of virtual worlds and medical media in the Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology, has been doing his own research: “We tested [the virtual O.R.] in a controlled experiment on 40 first-year medical students prior to their first visit to a real O.R. We wanted to determine if [the SL program] gives them more confidence before their first exposure to the real thing. We’ve found it is just as effective as the training O.R. in the physical world.” Diener says that his surveys of medical students show that their emotional reactions to medical crises in SL are very similar to the ones they have to real-life simulations.

  • Robert

    Your blog is very informative! Will come back and visit often.

  • http://shahid.shah.org Shahid N. Shah

    Thanks, I appreciate it :-)

  • Raksha

    What an interesting post! As a pre-med student, this title immediately grabbed my attention. It is amazing to me how far technology has brought us today. My mom (who is also a physician) would have never thought programs like these would be possible to create for the medical field. The greatest thing about it is that it seems to be very beneficial for the students! I went ahead and read the rest of the article because I wanted to know more about the SL program. Although it clearly states that more research must be done, the examples it presents show that the SL program is meeting its goals. The feature I find most fascinating about the simulation program is that it allows social networking. It’s almost like an interactive facebook for medical professionals — that’s what makes it so life-like. You aren’t alone in that simulated OR room, you actually need to interact with other “avatars” and work together just as you would in real life. It is also a wonderful teaching tool because it allows students to interact with physicians all around the world. I’d love to hear more about medical training in the virtual world and about the developments this program will make!

  • http://www.alliedtech.org Medical Assistant

    This is an interesting post. Believe it or not we had a similar program for my paramedic school I attended last year. The RN school had the same thing, except they had 4 dummies to our one. the mannequins really are quite phenomenal. They breath, chest rise and fall, you can intubate them, decompress them (chest tubes), start IV lines and everything. It is the closest you can come to a human for I believe a price tag of about 50-75k. To be honest the mannequin mostly comes in handy when practicing airway maintenance and assessment. Personally I think these kind of tools are very important, people in the medical community need to practice as much as possible before they actually get to work on patients. Real life patients are truly a whole different story and these simulators bring you pretty close to the real thing. Not to mention Docs often times have absolutely no experience in pt assessment and treatment before they begin their residency, so great tools for them.

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