More Health Care Providers Need a Second Life

May 14 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Jack Uldrich

Cross-posted from

I frequently speak to health care providers and hospitals associations on the future of health care. More often than not my message about how emerging technologies in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, genomics, stem cell research and robotics will transform the field is greeted with an open mind.

However, when I discuss how Internet-based technologies and virtual reality sites such as Second Life can help them train employees as well as diagnose patients, my message is often greeted with skepticism. It is an understandable reaction (after all, the technology is fairly new), but I’d argue that it is wrong and that providers who are refusing – or are reluctant – to embrace the technology are missing a grand opportunity to both save money and better assist their patients.

A wonderful case in point is this recent article from The Guardian. It is entitled “Teenagers to take embarassing ailments to Second Life doctors” and it discusses how a health care facility in Spain recently launched a virtual portal in Second Life aimed at diagnosing young people who are too embarassed to speak to a doctor about sexually transmitted diseases. (cont.)

To my mind, it is a great example of “jumping the curve” and embracing the future. Yet there is no reason why the technology should only be aimed at teenagers. As a middle-aged man myself, I know a great many of my peers would benefit from seeing a doctor more often but, for a variety of reasons, refuse to do so. The same is true for elderly people or patients located in remote rural areas. In each instance, virtual reality sites could be created that cater to the unique needs of these different demographics and entice them to receive medical information.

It is not my contention that virtual reality sites are a complete fix. I know many patients will continue to refuse to use the technology. Still, if smartly deployed and targeted at key constituencies, such sites can become a cost-effective weapon in delivering preventative health care information.

Interested in other health care-related posts? Check out these recent articles:

The Future of Health Care: Part 3 (Robotics)

The Robot Will See You Now

Hospitals Robotic Future: Part 2

Hospitals Robotic Future: Part 1

Hospitals Get a Lift

Comment Thread (7 Responses)

  1. Moving certain health care services to the internet is a good idea. I, for example, don’t understand why my medical records cannot be accessed online. But what the heck does this have to do with “Second Life”??? For example, when I want to do my online banking, I want to do it using simple and easy to use interface. Would walking through the maze of virtual 3D buildings and dealing with some weird avatars improve my banking experience? Heck no, it would get old and annoying in like 3 minutes.

    Posted by: johnfrink   May 14, 2008
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  2. I think banking in SL would actually be very cool. For example, I could ask questions to a real live person 24/7 instead of trying to figure out online banking interfaces that for some reason always “lose” my email alerts or require a 35 minute automated maze of a phone call – so I think it comes down to customer service and convenience. I mean, if I’m already in SL for my doctor’s appt, might as well swing by the bank to talk to my financial advisor!

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   May 14, 2008
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  3. Marisa, If you cannot reach a real person on the phone, what makes you think that a real person will be easily available in “Second Life”???

    Posted by: johnfrink   May 14, 2008
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  4. John: The issue of electronic records is a good one, but since I didn’t address that particular issue in this post I don’t know what you are referring to.

    As to your other point, just because you don’t like “Second Life” that is not sufficient reason to assume that some other people won’t. In fact, as the technology continues to improve and navigation becomes easier I suspect more people will use it.


    Posted by: juldrich   May 14, 2008
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  5. What I mean is, on the phone you have to dial through a bunch of menus to get to a live person, whereas in a real or virtual bank, you could just walk up to a teller. This scenario is likely given how other virtual establishments are run. But, I’ll admit, that would also require banks being allowed in virtual worlds, as they haven’t been in the past (see this article).

    Posted by: Marisa Vitols   May 14, 2008
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  6. Marisa, phone menus are not in place to make your life harder just for the sake of it. They are used because the number of human representatives on the other side is limited and they are trying to route you to the one that more probable to have answers for you.

    In real life you cannot always just walk up to a teller, sometimes you have to spend a lot of time waiting in line.

    Look, there are no miracles, if you want to talk to a real person, no matter where, in real life, on the phone or in Second Life, there have to be enough real people employed to talk to you and to other people. If you simply move 100 people who now do phone support to “Second Life”, then instead of pressing “1” and “2” and waiting on the phone, you will click on door “1” and then door “2” and then wait while other avatars are being served.

    Posted by: johnfrink   May 14, 2008
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  7. John:

    What you are failing to anticipate is that the algorithms “behind” avatars will only continue to get better. As they do, these avatars will not only be able to answer your questions and address your problems, they will actually be able to anticipate them.

    Bottomline: The person behind the avatar on Second Life might not even be a person.

    Posted by: juldrich   May 15, 2008
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