Marianne Matthews

Just an hour ago, I was resting comfortably in bed in a beautifully designed hospital room. Dr Hayes introduced himself as the physician who would be doing my gallbladder surgery. Then he directed a portable 3D multimodality scanner to roll into my room, and I was scanned right there in my hospital bed. ?Well, none of this actually happened to me; it happened to my avatar in Second Life, a 3D digital world.

Over the past few years, radiologists and cardiologists have become accustomed to the wonders of 3D tools when it comes to diagnosing and treating a wide variety of clinical problems. But the larger world of health care is now utilizing 3D technology to educate consumers, train staff, and better plan the way care is delivered in the future.

My experience, for example, was a visit to Palomar West—a virtual hospital simulating the real-world Palomar West Medical Campus due to open in 2011 in San Diego. Cisco Systems, a worldwide leader in networking, teamed with Palomar Pomerado Health to offer this virtual hospital of the future. A visit lets you preview the medical, technological, and architectural advancements planned for Palomar West. It showcases what the future of health care at this facility will be like with “acuity-adaptable” rooms, 3D multimodality medical imaging, and robotic surgery. Trust me, it’s quite a trip.

But before you can visit Palomar West, you’ll have to learn how to walk (and fly, too, if you like!) in Second Life. You’ve heard of “sea legs.” Well, now there’s “3D legs.” The virtual world is a wacky one until you get the hang of it. Once you enter the hospital lobby, you’ll be asked to wear an RFID bracelet for patient tracking and safety. Then, your avatar (your character in the virtual world) is free to roam the hospital, meeting other avatars—sometimes in the strangest places. (I was exploring my hospital room and when I turned around, I discovered another avatar in my bed!)

But back to the point. The Palomar West simulation features operating rooms that include advanced robotics and functional imaging systems capable of supporting medical procedures spanning interventional radiology, cardiovascular surgery, urology, and gastroenterology. What’s more, the simulation shows how Cisco’s technology lets radiologists locate specialists, contact them on their phones, laptop, or PDAs, and then do a desktop collaboration session of a patient’s scan images. For a truly unique experience, visit

Hospitals aren’t the only ones luring visitors to the virtual world. At the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting last month, IBM unveiled its Virtual Healthcare Island, a 3D representation of the challenges facing today’s health care industry. While I didn’t experience this one firsthand, apparently visitors “experience the private and secure creation of a functioning personal health record as they progress through the island’s various stations, including a medical laboratory, clinic, pharmacy, hospital, and emergency room.”

These 3D worlds have the potential to serve as powerful new platforms. The virtual world is an innovative and fun way to educate patients as well as physicians, and build awareness of health care challenges, technologies, and solutions. It’s also a way for organizations like Palomar West to gather valuable feedback that can be used to enhance the way care is delivered.

While I’m off exploring the 3D digital world, real radiologists in the real world are using 3D imaging tools to improve patient outcomes in everything from breast and colon cancer to heart disease. The March edition of Medical Imaging is our “3D Issue.” You’ll find 3D technologies spotlighted in two of our features, in select section stories, and in our Product Showcase. There are new and exciting discoveries to be made, especially in 3D cardiac and breast imaging. Happy exploring!

Marianne Matthews, editor