Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.
One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.
Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?
Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model
These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.
On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.
The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.
MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.
– Molly Power