Medicine and SecondLife

This posting is an assignment from my ongoing Informatics class.

SecondLife is a virtual world where users create an avatar and navigate through virtual worlds. What are the uses of SecondLife in the practice of Medicine?

Primarily, SecondLife is used for “role playing” or “game playing” where medical students can simulate their roles as Doctors  who are taking care of patients. Imperial College of London has established a learning environment which “aims to design game-based learning activities for the delivery of virtual patients that can drive experiential, diagnostic, and role-play learning activities supporting patients’ diagnosis, investigation and treatment.”  SecondLife does not replace human interaction or walking real wards and treating real patients, but it does provide an environment for students to learn off-hours. Since SecondLife is available 24×7, students can simulate a hospital or patient treatment experience any time of day or night. Another use of SecondLife is collaboration across international boundaries. Students in Australia can perform role playing/game playing with students in the USA to learn and share medical knowledge and experiences.

Could Patient-doctor relationships could be enhanced by using SecondLife ? I don’t think so because traditional doctor-patient relationships involve deep levels of trust. Not only because of the physical interaction between doctor and patient, but because patients reveal deep personal details of their lives to physicians. Patients might be reticent to do this if the doctor is a virtual avatar. Even if the physician avatar is known to the patient in real life, the role of the avatar might behave differently in SecondLife. Patient’s values about which uses of technology are good or not good for their health are at stake in SecondLife, and diverse cultural behaviour and values create different SecondLife experiences.  To create a real “virtual” connection with patients in SecondLife, doctors must be creative and self critical about their practices and be cautious not to replicate the same behaviour that generate power imbalances between medical professionals and patients in real-life.


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