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Virtual Reality and Public Health

R. Wade Schuette, MPH ’08

R. Wade Schuette I'm definitely a tech-oriented MPH Hopkins grad, with my undergrad work in engineering physics, grad work in astrophysics and 40 years of software programming.

These days I'm building web-based virtual hospitals and clinics and simulation labs for training student nurses in realistic immersive environments where their computerized avatars can walk around, chat with other avatars, monitor vital signs, get meds from the cabinet, adjust the patient's bed and IV and learn teamwork and Electronic Health Records use, as well as have "live" interactions with patients, families and social workers in a variety of contexts and settings, from "acute care" to rural Colorado, via a "holodeck" that changes the scene in a moment.

This is the kind of game-based technology that is used heavily by aviation, the military, and disaster-preparedness crews to practice together in situations that are too expensive, dangerous, inappropriate, or remote to visit in person.

I am fascinated with the potential uses of virtual reality as they relate to assisting the objectives of Public Health. By "virtual reality" I mean the gamut of video-games and multi-person immersive social environments such as Linden Lab's Second Life, OpenSim, and Unity3d.

Unity is especially attractive in that serious game can be developed once and then, with just a selection from a menu, deployed as browsable web-site or a PC or Mac application, or an iPhone or iPad or Android or Xbox application – in other words, to where young people hang out today

Virtual worlds provide ways to change behavior by altering someone's framework, perceived environment, and nearby peer group . An immersive world effectively changes a computer from a "verbal content processor" to a "non-verbal context processor," or a mixture of both.

As designer, I can directly force an avatar to dance, sing, fire a rifle, smoke a cigarette, eat a certain food and grow fat or thin in "real-time,” etc.

I believe that once people "see themselves" and other’s near them doing something, repeatedly, their brain comes up with sticky new rational reasons why this previously-avoided new behavior makes perfect sense, after all, looking back on it.  That perception can survive return from “the game” to the real world. Closing the feedback loop, behavior causes attitude.

Especially for training of teams of people such as doctors, nurses, managers and policy-makers,  the ability to avoid travel entirely and still get together, and to, when desired, be completely anonymous if not a different sex, race, and shape, might let people experience a very different world and come back changed in how they perceive and behave in this one.

This is a tool to reach pivotal people who are almost inaccessible otherwise, many of whom are controlled by internal mental models and social contexts that make rational arguments alone useless.

I’d welcome any comments, conversations, or collaborations!

For more information: virtual reality and nurse training:
My personal weblog “Perspectives in Public Health”:

R. Wade Schuette is retired and living in Morro Bay, CA.


This forum is closed
  • Guy Dargent

    Luxembourg 05/11/2012 11:11:54 AM

    Very interesting indeed. I am MD and working for an European Commission Agency with the evaluation of grants applications by panels of 3 evaluators. Virtual training could most probably improve the way they behave together and further improve the selection process with an acceptable cost. Please keep me informed of your activities

    Guy Dargent

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