I just came back from an *incredible* IAP event called Employing Virtual Worlds: Use of virtual worlds in engineering and health sciences education.
One of the presenters was a neurologist from Mass General Hospital named Dan Hoch. He said that back in the 70’s he was interested in the work of Herb Bensen, a Harvard Medical School graduate who researched stress reduction, relaxation, and transcendental meditation. Now working at MGH, Hoch wondered if techniques like transcendental meditation could help his patients, many of whom were epileptic. To make a long story short, he then developed an interest in virtual worlds and their intersection with the health care industry. He saw lots of compelling developments, but noticed that, for the most part, overlap between virtual space and health care took the form of education and distance learning. (For example, a place in Second Life called Health Info Island is basically a medical library that is funded by the National Library of Science.) Then he stumbled across the Virtual Hallucination Center on Dream Island in Second Life, where stroke survivors were employed in a variety of cognitive and behavioral rehabilitation projects. Once he saw that it was possible to do intervention work—not just education—in Second Life, he set about creating a virtual world where patients could meet to practice Bensen-inspired relaxation response techniques, meditation, and even virtual yoga. His group at MGH met with patients face to face in advance, and collected qualitative feedback after completion of the program, which was eight weeks long.
There are still a lot of challenges to doing work like this—including issues around privacy, access, the learning curve, and hardware demands. But Hoch’s team found that lots of people from around the world were interested in his approach to mind-body health, and many of the people already on Second Life were actively pursuing health-related activities.
Take a look at this quick video I captured with my camera (below). They gave us a quick tour of Connected Health Island, and this was how it started.
Learn more about the Second Life work Hoch does at the Center for Connected Health: http://www.connected-health.org/programs/second-life.aspx
Get info about consumer health locations and groups in Second Life: http://slhealthy.wetpaint.com/
If any readers are near campus Friday, there will be another installment of the IAP: Virtual World series from noon—2pm. Visit the IAP Web site for details: http://web.mit.edu/iap/index.html