Jean Pletinckx with 3D printed hospital model.
Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the medical non-profit that has been reinventing the concept of emergency aid since 1968, is bringing its humanitarian work into the digital age with a 3D printing and virtual reality technology concept which aims to design hospitals that better meet the needs of patients in major disasters and war zones.
Following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, Elvina Motard, MSF technical team leader, worked with expert consultants to turn existing plans for a hospital MSF built in Cantahay, the Philippines, into digital models that could be 3D printed and developed into a virtual reality experience.
“The idea of this project was really to see how we can make use of 3D printing technologies and virtual reality to help MSF better design our hospitals,” Motard commented.
Through this new digital experience, powered by a game engine, the user can navigate through a virtual world via a headset and a game pad. Traditionally, MSF’s medical and logistical teams draft 2D drawings before building a hospital but this new approach will arm doctors on the ground with new tools and make sure they have facilities that are optimised for their environments. This technology will also help MSF train doctors by showing them exactly what a hospital can do before they begin working there.
“Such technologies will undoubtedly make discussions more efficient, more vivid and more graphic,” Jean Pletinckx, MSF director of logistics, explained. “They will allow people to really see themselves inside our future hospital and this will improve hospital design as well as training and briefings. It will also allow our partners, like local ministries of health, to better understand what we can provide and better feedback on our suggestions.”
The Cantahay hospital “proof of concept” project took four months to complete. The goal for the near future is to allow field staff, anywhere in the world to send and view 3D models and evaluate the design before building takes place. This will ensure that the facility is designed in a way that will be most efficient and effective for doctors and patients.
“As the project develops further, it will be possible to create a dynamic environment, simulating patient and staff movements,” Pletinckx added. “We are at a stage now where our staff will really be able to feel or see what they will face in the field before they leave and indeed, even before the structure is built. There is no doubt that this is the way we will work in the future.”