Virtual Worlds and Virtual Patients for Interprofessional Simulation


Second Life has been around for a long time, you might be surprised to learn that it was launched way back in 2003. One of the first virtual worlds to gain popularity, it peaked in 2006 but still has a number of regular users. The Second Life virtual world is a simulated environment whereby users are represented as an avatar and may interact with other avatars via text or live voice. It has been used many times in health professions education such as through the creation of a private virtual workplace. A recent publication in the Journal of Interprofessional Care shows that Second Life, and potentially other virtual worlds, have value and relevance as an educational tool and may overcome some of the challenges of providing interprofessional learning opportunities.

In this study, a simulation exercise to teach interprofessional practice in palliative care was developed for graduate students from medicine, nursing, nutrition, physical therapy and social work professions. As part of the exercise, the students (who were unknown to each other) met in the virtual world and interacted with each other and also with a standardized patient who was controlling the patient avatar in the virtual world. Other aspects included a scavenger hunt style exercise that required students to work together to find virtual objects and navigate together through the virtual workplace, and an opportunity to experience  a different section of the virtual world which had been designed to reflect the patient’s experience of hallucinations and delusions. 

Participants were generally positive about the experience from both a participation and learning perspective but lamented that the avatars were not able to display facial expressions or other aspects of non-verbal communication. Overall it provides a scalable solution for education providers that have remote students or scheduling challenges when trying to plan interprofessional educational interventions. 

While Second Life is in decline, and as a result may not be sustainable in the future, virtual worlds and virtual patients present opportunities to learn as an individual or part of a team. There are several platforms available that are quite user-friendly for both the education team to design simulation and the learners to participate in simulations.