Using Virtual Worlds for Patient and Public Engagement

By Michael Taylor, Meerat Kaur, Uvarshi Sharma, Dave Taylor, Julie E. Reed and Ara Darzi.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Patient and public involvement is fundamental in healthcare and many methods attempt to facilitate this engagement. The present study investigated use of computer-generated environments known as “virtual worlds” (VW) as an engagement method. The VW used in the present research was Second Life, which is 3-dimensional, publically accessible and Internet-based. It is accessed using digital self-representations, or “avatars,” through which users navigate the virtual environment and communicate with one another. Participants were patients with long-term conditions, frequently involved in shaping health research and care. Some had mobility and communication difficulties, potentially making involvement through traditional face-to-face modes of engagement challenging. There were two stages to this study. Stage-1: Participants were introduced to VWs and Second Life. This was followed by a face-to-face focus group discussion (FGD) in order to gain their views on use of SL. Stage-2: An FGD attended by eight people (four patients, three researchers, one healthcare professional) was conducted in Second Life. Training and support on using Second Life had been provided for participants. The FGD took place successfully, although some technical and communication difficulties were experienced. Data was collected in the form of transcriptions and questionnaires from the patients about their experience of using the virtual world. Participants recognised the potential of VWs as a platform for patient engagement, especially for those who suffer from chronic conditions that impact severely upon their mobility and communication. Participant feedback indicated that potential barriers include technical problems with VW programs and potential user inexperience of using VWs, which may be counteracted by ensuring provision of continuous training and support. In conclusion, this study established the feasibility of using VWs for patient FGDs and indicates a potential of use of VWs for engagement in future, particularly for peer-led support and to engage people with particular long-term conditions.

Keywords: Patient and Public Involvement, Patient and Public Engagement, Second Life, Virtual Worlds

International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.31-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 667.769KB).

Michael Taylor

Research Assistant, Division of Surgery, Imperial College London, London, England, UK

Michael Taylor is a Research Assistant at the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London and is currently in the final year of a PhD on Social Influence in Healthcare-related Computer Mediated Communication. Michael has previously completed a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at University College London. The primary focus of his research is the investigation of how Virtual Worlds can be used to facilitate Healthcare. This work has two main strands that investigate how virtual worlds could be used to improve 1) patient and public engagement in healthcare and 2) interpersonal team collaboration between healthcare professionals. The theoretical framework for this work is rooted in Behavioural Science and Social Psychology as well as Improvement Science.

Meerat Kaur

Associate Patient and Public Involvement Lead, NIHR CLAHRC for Northwest London, London, England, UK

Meerat Kaur is the Associate Patient and Public Involvement Lead for the Collaboration for Leadership in the Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Northwest London, and provides strategic direction for patient and public involvement in the CLAHRC programme. She has almost 10 years experience in the health, human rights and disaster relief settings, working in the UK, East and West Africa and India. Meerat has a strong expertise in patient, public, staff and community engagement and development, project management and action research.

Dr Uvarshi Sharma

Research Associate, NIHR CLAHRC for Northwest London, London, England, UK

Dr. Sharma completed her PhD in Healthcare Information Systems at Brunel University, and is now working as a research associate at NIHR CLAHRC in collaboration with Imperial College. Her field of expertise includes understanding deployment and evaluation of innovation in healthcare, and disseminating qualitative research. Urvashi comes from an engineering background and has an MSc in biomedical engineering and a BEng in electronic and electrical engineering. In addition, she has 10 years of experience working as a manager in health and social care settings.

Dave Taylor

Programme Lead, Virtual Worlds and Medical Media, Division of Surgery, Imperial College London, London, England, UK

Dave Taylor is Programme Lead for Virtual Worlds and Medical Media in a new healthcare research group at Imperial College London, headed by Professor Ara Darzi. His work involves development and applied research in the visualisation of future health care, and the use of new media including mobile and virtual world technologies for empowering patients and teams involved in healthcare quality improvement. In 2006 Dave pioneered the UK National Physical Laboratory's virtual worlds business, and is a founder of the SciLands, a Second Life continent dedicated to Science, Technology and Medicine, that now has over 65 islands transcending national boundaries and disciplines. In previous lives Dave has been Vice President of Global Web for a leading multinational and managed Letraset's software business in Europe, working with Adobe Systems, Pixar and Apple Computer in the 80's and 90's. Dave has a BSc in Mathematics and an MSc in Experimental Psychology.

Dr. Julie E. Reed

Health Foundation Improvement Science Fellow, Head of Research Strategy, NIHR CLAHRC for Northwest London, London, London, UK

Julie Reed is a Health Foundation Improvement Science Fellow based at Imperial College London, United Kingdom. Her fellowship focuses on developing the scientific principles of Improvement Science and the challenges of acting scientifically in complex environments. Julie is also Head of Research Strategy for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Northwest London (population ~ 2 million). The CLAHRC program promotes collaborative working between academics and practitioners to drive improvements in patient care across northwest London using a systematic and scientific Evidence Based Implementation approach.

Ara Darzi

Professor of Surgery, Division of Surgery, Imperial College London, London, UK

Professor Darzi holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College London where he is Head ofthe Imperial College Institute of Global Health Innovation. He is an Honorary Consultant Surgeon at Imperial College Hospital NHS Trust and the Royal Marsden Hospital and holds the Chair of Surgery at the Institute of Cancer Research. Research led by Professor Darzi is directed towards achieving best surgical practice through both innovation in surgery and enhancing the safety and quality of healthcare. His contribution within these research fields has been outstanding, publishing over 600 peer-reviewed research papers to date. In recognition of his outstanding achievements in research and development of surgical technologies, Professor Darzi was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

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