Virtual Worlds and Health: Healthcare Delivery and Simulation Opportunities

Virtual Worlds and Health: Healthcare Delivery and Simulation Opportunities

David Holloway
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-854-5.ch017
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With decades of experience in simulation, the health professions are comparatively well versed in virtual environments for training. More broadly, there is a growing body of experience and supporting evidence on the benefits of virtual worlds for professional information sharing, clinical simulation, healthcare delivery, and as a research tool. Virtual worlds have empirically demonstrated outcomes as a simulation tool that increases knowledge and of health professionals, and initial explorations in regard to healthcare delivery show promise. Key challenges for wider adoption of virtual worlds within the health professions include a lack of established standards around privacy, a fragmented approach to collaboration and marked skepticism toward virtual worlds as a platform for health care delivery. Recommendations for formalised collaboration mechanisms, agreement on standards, and future research avenues are put forward, with a focus on virtual worlds as a tool that increasingly will be central to professional learning and practice.
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A majority of the focus on virtual worlds to date has been on their applicability to education more broadly as opposed to health care specifically. For health professionals, health researchers and academics, a range of unique opportunities and challenges present themselves in relation to virtual worlds, which have evolved to be a cost-effective, clinically appropriate learning tool, health intervention environment and research platform.

This chapter will therefore look at three broad areas on virtual worlds and health. First, the use of virtual worlds for general training purposes and professional information sharing will be discussed. Second, the context for the use of virtual worlds for clinical simulation will be established, including a case study showing its utility in the field of surgery. The related area of clinical modeling for more effective health care delivery will also be explored, with examples of work underway on hospital workflow logistics and the use of smart objects. Finally, the use of virtual worlds as a health research tool will be illustrated, with a particular emphasis on the link between virtual world and physical world health behaviours.

The three areas for discussion provide a snapshot of the work underway within the health field, but do not encapsulate its full breadth. The issue of addiction has been purposely avoided as the research base is markedly disparate to the other areas discussed in this chapter, so doing it justice within the space constraints is difficult. For a small proportion of the population, use of virtual worlds can indeed become problematic. This is no way detracts from the larger population that currently and potentially will benefit from virtual worlds, but the negative aspects should not go unacknowledged.

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