It seems real-life medical tourism is so yesterday for some fans of the virtual universe Second Life.
Outliers: When your avatar needs treatment
A study by researchers at the University of Toronto has documented a burgeoning number of Second Life worlds that allow avatars to engage in virtual medical travel. The trips offer everything from disease education to surgical simulation and professional medical training for residents of the vast cyberspace universe.
Jennifer Keelan, principal investigator on the Journal of Medical Internet Research study, A Survey of Health-Related Activities on Second Life, believes the virtual worlds could have positive implications in the real world. There is great opportunity to use these platforms for education, research and even disease surveillance, Keelan says.
For the study, researchers reviewed print and online literature and sent a female avatar named Ellebee Helendale on a tour of Second Life to hunt down healthcare-related services. The effort rooted out 68 such virtual properties sponsored by real-world hospitals, healthcare consumer groups and government organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visiting those properties, Second Life residents could, in a matter of hours, send their own avatars on a trip to the Ann Myers Medical Center Island for a mammogram, followed by a visit to the massive medical library on HealthInfo Island to conduct research on breast cancer treatment and, finally, surgery at Palomar West hospitalthe virtual version of a hospital now being built in Escondido, Calif.
The studys authors hope their findings will help them design cyberspace vehicles for medical research and health information dissemination that will have real-world applications.
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