Live from HiMSS08: A Covert operation, online

What if, when you planned out a new hospital, you built the entire thing on Second Life first and let your staff explore and critique the design? That's just one of the many experiments executives at Palomar Pomerado Health have engaged in as they plan almost $1 billion in new construction.

Yesterday, I had the chance to discuss the project with PPH president and CEO Michael Covert, who came to HiMSS to tell a Cisco user's meeting about the system's IT plan. Working with Cisco, the health system has set up a virtual model of Palomar West, its planned 450-bed facility, which will be completed in 2011. Using avatars, visitors can walk through the whole facility, rather than being limited to small mock-ups or blueprints typical of the standard construction process.

Not only does the Second Life-based version of Palomar West duplicate the building's layout, it's also demonstrating key technical features of the new facility, including a nifty new 3-D holographic medical imaging system, RFID-based systems that guide visitors through the facility and a network that links up, not only data systems, but also clinical systems, communication infrastructure and even facilities functions like ventilation, air conditioning, security and signage.

Covert says he's tremendously excited by the opportunity to put the facility on Second Life, which will net him feedback not only from his patients, staff and clinicians, but also, he hopes, from the general public. "The real question is how to prepare for and plan for innovation [generally,]" Covert says. "One way was to create a virtual hospital, but that's just the beginning."

I don't know about you, but I find this quite exciting. I'm not sure whether walk-throughs in cyberspace will really be that much more effective a planning mechanism than building mock-ups of key areas like operating theaters. And doubtless, the project wasn't cheap (Covert has the advantage of spending cash generated by a government-backed bond issue.)

Still, I'm convinced something good can come out of this approach. It may actually teach us something about how to get stakeholders excited about IT. - Anne

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