Sunday, March 1, 2009

Second Life in Medical Education

How can we train medical students to take a good history in a safe environment before they start working with real patients?
One method we often use is "standardized patients" who are trained to act like patients with particular medical problems. These encounters can be video taped for later review. This is generally an excellent method for training medical students but has some drawbacks:
  • Expense
  • Convenience
  • Scheduling problems
  • Shortage of well-trained standardized patients.
  • Informed consent for use of video
It may be possible to use virtual worlds (like Second Life) for this purpose. SL allows for certain gestures and facial expressions. The Avatars can be designed to have a specific appearance consistent with the medical problem e.g. disheveled appearance when depressed. SL now allows for voice chat. The entire session can be recorded as machinima using software like FRAPS. The Imperial College of London has done some work on Virtual Patients and on training for scrubbing prior and positioning patients in SL.

We are working on a project to test the feasibility of using SL for training students on history taking and presented a poster on this at a recent education retreat at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. At present we are working on creating the appropriate settings and emotions and gestures for a test case (Special thanks to Sue Shick for these images). Should have some results in the next 12 months.

Addendum (3/30/09)
CNN just ran a story on the Imperial College of London efforts in SL