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2/25/2008
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Hospital Takes Its Grand Opening To Second Life

Virtual visitors to the Palomar West Medical Campus can tour the facilities and see some of the amenities of the $810 million, real-life publicly financed hospital in San Diego.

A new state-of-the art medical center due to open in San Diego in 2011 had its virtual grand opening three years early on the Internet-based Second Life.

Palomar Pomerado Health and its technology partner Cisco Systems on Monday cut the ribbon on Second Life for the simulated version of the real-life Palomar West Medical Campus, which is under construction and isn't slated to open for about three years.

Palomar West Medical Campus is the first U.S. hospital to have its unveiling on Second Life, said Orlando Portale, Palomar Pomerado's chief innovation officer.

In Second Life, virtual visitors can tour the facilities and see some of the amenities of the $810 million, real-life publicly financed hospital, which will serve California's largest public health district, covering 850 miles in San Diego.

The facility was designed "from the ground up to be integrated with leading-edge technology, including medical technology, as well as being eco-friendly," said Portale. The Second Life presence "gives our patients and the health care community a chance to demo these innovations in the virtual world years before the physical facility opens."

Virtual visitors to Palomar West can also help Palomar Pomerado test out some of its concepts for how leading-edge technology could be used at the new facility or how futuristic concepts might provide opportunities for the health care industry at large, said Portale.

"We want to have our constituents in our district, the taxpayers and others, to provide feedback on this multimillion-dollar facility," said Portale, who has spent 20 years in the health care IT sector and joined Palomar Pomerado last May, after serving as general manager for global health care at Sun Microsystems.

Via Second Life, visitors to Palomar West can test some technology that's likely to be deployed in the real-life hospital.

For instance, avatar patients taking the virtual tour can also test out RFID-enabled bracelets that can not only track patients but could automatically guide them to the appropriate areas of the facility, based on what kind of health services they're scheduled to have. For instance, a virtual patient slated for day surgery could automatically have the hospital elevator land on the correct floor based on the information programmed in the RFID bracelet.

"In some cases, we're demoing technology that's ready for today but has low adoption in health care -- RFID is one those technologies," said Portale. "We wanted to demonstrate to the hospital industry how these technologies could be deployed." The real Palomar West might end up using a next generation of RFID once the facility is open, he said.

"Some of the concepts we're exploring aren't being done anywhere and may not be viable," he said. For instance, a virtual tour to a mock patient room may demo how a patient could have a full-body imaging scan test performed while the patient is inside the room.

But today, in real life, hospital patients need to be moved out of their rooms and brought into special testing rooms for such imaging, he said. "We want to provide a vision for where technology could go," said Portale.

Cisco, which provides network technology and services to Palomar Pomerado's other real-life health facilities and medical centers in California, assisted Palomar Pomerado in developing the Second Life tour, Portale said.

Looking ahead, Palomar Pomerado plans to host in the Second Life version of Palomar West industry events and meetings with health care leaders, policy makers, and others on a variety of topics, said Portale. Those meetings could focus on health care issues, as well as the design, architecture, and technology used in the real-life Palomar West.

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