SL8B Feature: NY HealthScape

NY HealthScape describes itself as “a diverse collection of creative and enterprising individuals actively involved in the virtual world of Second Life.” The community is spread out over twenty sims capturing the old world charm of historic New York, and is sponsored by the Southern Tier HealthLink, New York, a non-profit organisation that is bringing electronic information from hospitals, doctors, etc., together into a comprehensive patient record, available to both health practitioners and the patient.

In operation since January 2008, the aim of NY HealthScape is not simply to provide a residential and business environment within Second Life, but to facilitate qualitative patient education using innovative media methods such as Second Life to reach out to those who might otherwise be unable or unwilling to access healthcare information and education due to mobility or other difficulties, allowing the Southern Tier HealthLink to further “connect the dots” in patient healthcare in the real world.

A key example of this has been the development of a series of Quest Homes. These are interactive tour or hunt inspired installations on the NY HealthScape sims which allows for themed health information to be delivered in a game format. Visitors can click on interactive aspects of a tour to get points which are then redeemable for prizes. During the Quest tour, information is provided by local prompts which make learning fun.

The breast cancer Quest tour recently became the subject of a superb machinima written by Sylar Smythe, NYHS’s Communications and Marketing representative and produced by Panacea Luminos, the Executive Director of Southern Tier HealthLink NY. Entitled Between Worlds: A Journey of Hope, the Machinima both introduces the concept of the House Quest and itself serves as an innovative use of Second Life to educate people about the potential uses of Second Life. The film is available in four parts on You Tube, and you can see Part 1, below.

The NYHealthscape roller coaster

NY Healthscape are represented at SL8B by a fabulous roller coaster exhibit located in the SL8B Spellbound sim, and which represents one of the more fun element of SL8B – not only can you find out more about healthcare and the work of NY Healthscape, you can also have fun riding the roller coaster itself (I recommend you use ML on at least one trip around the ride, just for the full experience!).

I caught up with Panacea Luminos and Skylar in order to gain further insight into the exhibit itself and the work of NY Healthscape itself. I started out by asking them about why a roller coaster in particular.

Panacea Luminos (l) and Skylar Smythe (r) with NYHS Customer Service Rep Linda Wei and the NTHS exhibit, SL8B

“Skylar came up with the idea,” Panacea explains, “If NY HealthScape’s goal is to demonstrate the benefit of educating through ‘doing’ rather than being told then we felt our exhibit should express the same mentality. A fun roller coaster was purchased and modified to include messages about our core mission in an entertaining way.”

“We hope that it communicates the concept that healthcare management is a long term perspective,” Skylar adds. “One that requires consistent delivery of healthcare information and patient access is the key to long term quality health. By maintaining awareness and taking an active role in their own health management, patients can enjoy a ‘longer ride’.”

So how do NYHS quantify the benefits of an in-world experience when it comes to healthcare? “It’s a non-threatening environment,” Skylar replies immediately. Panacea nods in agreement, continuing, “We offer people the chance to get to know us and one another first. “There is no pressure. People can come and go, take part in events such at joining in with a blues night at our club, explore Second Life, and learn about health matters at their own pace.”

“It’s a gateway for those with mobility problems as well,” Skylar adds, “And the medium is more attractive – the interactive element encourages investigation and learning that traditional methods cannot emulate.”

Panacea Luminos speaking at SL8B

So what do you hope people will gain from the ride at SL8B? “We hope it will pique their interest,” Panacea states after considering the question a moment, “That they’ll come visit [the NYHS sims] and engage with us and redefine their assumptions about delivery methods for health education and awareness. It is important information but it can be fun and intuitively communicated.”

So what else are NYHS planning?

“At the moment we’re planning to expand Quest Homes further,” Panacea states, “To cover subjects such as diabetes and obesity. Second Life also offers a unique environment where any healthcare situation, including procedures and emergencies, can be simulated as a hands-on, “learn-by-doing” experience, which we tap into.” She goes on to explain that as well as the interactive elements such as Quest Homes, NYHS also stages presentations on chronic illnesses, fitness events, and health assessments, as well as more entertainment-oriented activities, “To build a sense of community that will keep the region vibrant and evolving. These events may also have a secondary health education component, such as a Manhattan restaurant that offers low fat cuisine and recipes.”

Turning to the NYHS sims themselves, I asked about how else they are used beyond issues of health and welfare. “We have twenty sims in operation,” Panacea replies, “And we’re not currently planning on expanding that,” she pauses a moment and then grins, “Unless LL decide to lower sim tier! We offer a range of business and residential rentals across the sims. As an NPC, our goal is to generate income to make the sims self-sustaining, so rentals help with this. We also accept donations and sponsorship, and sell breedables. We encourage people to come and explore, and offer them several means of doing so.”

“Such as?” I prompt.

“Well, we have our own railway that connects ten sims,” Panacea continues, “It’s a replica of the famous Phoebe Snow, a steam engine that rolled along the Lackawanna Railroad through New York. We also have electric trams and taxis available, or people can take two balloon tours of the sims.”

Looking across New York, with the Binghamton RR Station centre foreground, where you can catch the Pheobe Snow

“We also have some fabulous locales for photography and machinima,” Skylar adds, “Like the Athens-Hudson lighthouse.”

Athens-Hudson Lighthouse

All-in-all New York HealthScape is possibly one of the most innovative uses Second Life has been put to; with its integrated approach to healthcare, community and virtual living, it more than ably demonstrates the very real magic of Second Life.

To find out more about this remarkable project, I urge you to pay a visit to both the NYHS SL8B exhibit and the unique New York sims (Surls below) and that you to tune-in to Designing Worlds on Treet TV, Monday June 27th at 2:00pm SLT, when Skylar will be talking about the project.

Useful Links

Southern Tier Healthlink, New York

New York HealthScape Website

New York HealthScape SL8B roller coaster

Binghamton RR Station, Southern Tier New York – take the train or ride a tram. Balloon tour in the field next to the station.

The Athens-Hudson Lighthouse, Eastern New York

Tribeca Blues Club, Midstate New York – there’s another balloon tour just up the road.