Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Virtual Healthcare and Hospitals

I dunno... you wait months for a virtual health service, then 2 come along at once. In the space of only a couple of days we witnessed press announcements from both IBM and Cisco/Millions of Us, launching healthcare-related sims in Second Life.

I will deal with the IBM one first - since I am clearly not ill enough to gain access to the site in question: IBM Healthcare Island. The island, which debuted at HIMMS'08 healthcare conference, is described in the press release as "a unique, three-dimensional representation of the challenges facing today’s healthcare industry and the role information technology will play in transforming global healthcare-delivery to meet patient needs." It is split into a number of locations, ranging from the patient's home, to clinics, laboratories, hospital and the ER. The main aim is to show the use of Personal Health Records (PHRs), the interactions with Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems and the development of an Electronic Health Record (EHR). I am slashing the description to the bone here - read the extensive press release for more.

Perhaps ironically, given the currently closed status of the island, Dan Pelino, General Manager, IBM Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry says: "The island allows each healthcare stakeholder to envision how the total system can be affected by intercession at each juncture of the healthcare delivery process.” As a 'patient' I'd like to think I count as a 'healthcare stakeholder'. Oh well, in the meantime I will continue to take aspirin and plenty of liquids, while giving some consideration to...

PalomarWest Hospital. Where IBM appear to be using the 3D world to walk us through medical processes and information flows, MOU are using it as a visualisation tool, modelling a hospital that is not due to open in the atomic world until 2011. They have developed the visualisation on behalf of Palomar Pomerado Health and Cisco Systems who, between them, are developing a "hospital of the future" in which state-of-the-art ICT networks and systems will help deliver premium levels of patient care. You can read the press release to glean the features they seek to demonstrate in the virtual world, including "telepresence", robotics and 3D imaging.

The sim itself looks very impressive - though I could not quite get a handle on the scale. Nor could I get a reliable fix on the level of detail. Arriving in the car park, you are presented with the medical centre in all its proposed finery. As this is about visualisation, it should not have surprised me to find that so much of the centre was effectively shut. In large areas I could admire the outside, but not wander around the inside. In fact, I found my route heavily constrained. I could get into the ground floor lobby, and after picking up a RFID tag I should have been able to access treatment facilities. However, it told me these were in use (though I seemed to be the only person on the sim) so I can't comment on these. I may try another time. Incidentally, I was a bit surprised to be told that I needed to have my gall bladder removed - I certainly did not have that in mind when I came to the sim!

There's a couple of movies that talk you through some of the concepts of the hospital, while also promoting the joys of Cisco wifi access. Maybe it was my inability to actually obtain treatment, but I saw none of the features listed in the press release. Perhaps they are still being worked on, since I did notice a basic cube prim on the stairs leading up from the lobby. Oh... it would be nice if the wheelchairs worked too. Overall I liked the sim, and can see that it is a big step ahead of 2D presentations when trying to imagine how the place will look and operate. However, I'm not sure that the press release bears much resemblance. I suppose I'd better go back and get that gall bladder whipped out.

Here's some views of the outside:

The lobby and the basic, cube prim:

A Cisco wifi access point - and and infomercial:

You can find out more about the proposed Palomar Medical Center West here.
You can download a .WMV format video for the virtual hospital here.

Oh...and finally - I couldn't help but notice, in checking through press releases, that Cisco has just established the rather wonderfully entitled Academy of Digital Signage. I dunno... it tickled me, anyway.


UPDATE: I am given to understand that the IBM Healthcare island should be opening to the general public in a few weeks. So just wrap up warm and avoid chills until then.

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