Sunday 28 August 2016

Health Digital Check-Up: Second Life, Second Coming?

To outsiders, Second Life seems like virtual huddle for cult creeps, the socially inept, or the fantasy obsessed. But before you write it off completely, this edition of HDCU will give you a download on how Second Life has, and can be, used effectively in the health field.

To jog your memory, Second Life is a virtual world that was launched in 2003 by Linden Lab in California. Members create virtual identities in the form of an avatar and become a resident in an online population of 18.5M. Avatars can go shopping for virtual items (using real money that is converted into the Second Life currency, Linden Dollars), attend yoga classes, visit the theatre and create businesses.

Despite getting a bad rap in the past few years, Second Life offers users a rich, real-time experience in a dynamic, 3D graphical landscape. Such capabilities, and the unique user experience allowed, has made Second Life attractive to healthcare organizations, educational institutions, government bodies and patient communities in order to; coordinate meetings, organize support groups and provide disease education awareness initiatives.

It is unlikely that Second life will ever become mainstream like Facebook, but it might be the correct channel for specialized, targeted health initiatives. Second Life can be very effective platform for patients seeking support or information because people can have a more emotional experience navigating 3D dimensions as an avatar, in a very private, anonymous online environment. Second Life has a hosted a number projects in the healthcare field, here are a few that may be of interest.

Virtual PTSD Experience

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently announced the launch of an interactive simulation on Second Life created to help those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) developed the ‘Virtual PTSD Experience’ to help combat veterans, their families and friends to anonymously enter a virtual world and learn about PTSD causes, symptoms and resources (read more about this and see a video demonstration). The environment includes information to help visitors determine whether they or others they know might be suffering from PTSD or at risk, and how they can access care.

The American Cancer Society ‘Relay For Life:’

On July 16-17 this year, The American Cancer Society will hold ‘Relay for Life’, an event on Second Life to celebrate the lives of people who have “battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease”. The event, which has a different theme every year, involves teams of people camping out in a designated virtual “campsite” and walking or running around a track. During the Relay Season (mid-March – July), fundraising events are held to collect donations for the American Cancer Society in exchange for virtual entertainment, clothing and objects. The American Cancer Society has held the ‘Relay of Life’ since 2005 and last year raised US$222,000.

Centers for Disease Control

CDC established an island in Second Life, hosting video content, public health posters and links back to information resources on CDC.gov website. The CDC island promotes health campaigns, has a virtual lab and conference center. The CDC has posted “Real Life Health Alerts” in Second Life to “bridge…real life health threats and virtual education opportunities,” said John Anderton, Associate Director for Communications at the CDC.

Network of Strength

The Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization has built a virtual office in Second Life called ‘Network of Strength.’ Weekly support groups are held at the office for those effected by breast cancer. Network of Strength partnered with other virtual organizations to host fundraiser with live performances, raffles, free giveaway and raised more than $256,000 Linden Dollars. Read more about this here.

Final Thought

A primary obstruction to user-accessibility to Second Life to date has been that it required a software download, but the company has now started beta testing for a web browser version of Second Life, which will make it more accessible, compatible with mobile technology, as well as integrated with social networks such as Facebook. Second Life is also conscious of users with physical disabilities and works with third-party developers and assistive technology manufacturers to make the viewer software accessible. Will that give Second Life the second life it needs?


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