State-of-the-art hospital opens in Second Life

Future patients can stroll through facility that's slated to open in 2011 in the real world

A health care center in California this week opened a new state-of-the-art hospital -- in Second Life.

The opening of Palomar Pomerado Health's virtual hospital follows ground-breaking ceremonies in the real world for its $773 million, 600-bed Palomar West facility. The actual hospital, in Escondido, Calif., will cover 1.2 million square feet, have 600 beds and serve 900,000 people in the state's largest health care district, which spans from San Diego to Riverside County.

With completion of the first phase of the real-world hospital still three years away, executives at the health care provider figured that future patients would like to see what's coming. Therefore they created the facility and all of its state-of-the-art technology in the Second Life virtual world.

"We want to demonstrate to our patients what they can expect when this new hospital opens," said Orlando Portale, the chief technology and innovation officer at Palomar Pomerado. "They can see it and go in and experience it. You can show people pictures and talk about it, but this virtual world technology enables us to have people experience the environment on their own. They can guide themselves through there and look at all the stuff. In the patient rooms, they can play with the technology, like ordering meals electronically."

Second Life is an open-ended, 3-D virtual world that provides an online society for people to meet in virtual bars, buy and sell products, hold meetings, and even fly.

Palomar Pomerado teamed up on the virtual hospital project with Cisco Systems Inc., which is slated to supply the real hospital with various technologies. Visitors are welcomed to the Second Life version of Palomar West by a virtual receptionist appearing via Cisco TelePresence technology, which uses high-definition video and spatial audio.

The virtual hospital also shows off new operating rooms equipped with robotics technology and functional imaging systems capable of supporting various medical procedures such as cardiovascular surgery, urology and gastroenterology. An advanced surgical cockpit, which surgeons can use to remotely manipulate robotic systems while viewing vital signs and imaging information, is also shown off in the virtual facility.

The virtual Palomar Medical Center West

Visitors to the virtual hospital also will receive a radio frequency identification technology-enabled bracelet that will enable elevators to take them to the right floor and guide them to the appropriate rooms. Portale said Palomar Pomerado Health is considering using RFID technology in the real hospital but is biding its time to see if a new technology supersedes it by the time the hospital is ready to open. If the organization does go with RFID, it could be used to track patients, guide visitors and protect hospital property.

"We're fortunate that in San Diego we've got one of the most wired communities in the U.S.," said Portale. "Our patients are very tech-savvy. I think they're really going to grab onto this. When you go in, you can experience what the new hospital room will look like. The rooms will be very, very different than any other hospital rooms. Nurses can be stationed right outside the rooms, and depending on the severity of your illness, that room can transform itself to an ICU type of room down to [one that can] accommodate someone who's not very sick."

The first phase of real-world construction, slated for 2011 completion, consists of a 750,000-square-foot center. The full project should be completed about two years later, Portale said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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