Metaverse: The next frontier for Health 4.0

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With a predicted market size of USD 800 billion by 2024, the metaverse is taking social connections to the next level. Over 74% of adults in the US have joined or are considering joining this virtual space. Various industry experts have discussed how the metaverse can transform gaming, entertainment, socializing, work, and commerce. However, not a lot has been spoken about how it might affect healthcare.

Metaverse involves the convergence of three major technological trends — artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). Together, they can open up completely new channels for delivering treatment, lowering costs, and significantly improving patient outcomes in healthcare.

Three major channels fuelling the use of metaverse in healthcare

1. Telemedicine

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine gained a lot of traction, as before that only 43%of healthcare facilities could deliver remote therapy to patients. That percentage has now risen to 95%. Metaverse will supplement telemedicine visits with a virtual office, where patients and physicians can meet in a 3D clinic or any other location.

This is projected to improve the user experience for teleconsultation services significantly. Using VR, the metaverse in healthcare can enable next-level immersion, by providing a considerably higher sense of “being there” than other virtual environments like websites, messaging applications, or social media. Through such consultations, patients will no longer be restricted to being treated by specific specialists owing to their physical location. It’s particularly valuable in places like China, where medical personnel are in poor supply, as well as for patients in distant areas who would otherwise have to travel a long way to visit a doctor.

Therapy is another area where the metaverse in healthcare can be highly effective. Patients can interact with situations that cause them anxiety in safe environments where every aspect of the interaction can be closely monitored and controlled. For instance, gameChange, a virtual reality system developed by Dr. Daniel Freeman and his colleagues at the University of Oxford is using VR to treat psychosis using a form of medical technology known as digital therapeutics or DTx.

A scene from the gameChange VR system: Simulation of a doctor’s waiting area

2. Blockchain

Blockchain is a critical part of the metaverse in healthcare, according to experts, because it allows for decentralized communities controlled democratically via smart contracts, as well as a record of digital “ownership” of environments or even items in the digital world. The management and security of our highly valuable health data is blockchain’s most prominent use case in healthcare.

Currently, data is frequently transferred between many companies in an inefficient and opaque manner in the eyes of the data’s owners. Because health records are typically maintained on centralized computers, our information is vulnerable to theft (a single health record is reported to be worth between USD 70 and USD 100 on the dark web). It also means that obtaining it, even for those who have a valid need for it – such as a professional who is treating us – can be a time-consuming and exhausting process.

3. Digital twins

A digital twin is a virtual model or simulation of any object, process, or system that is created using real-world data to learn more about its real-world counterpart. In the metaverse, the patient’s digital twin could be the patient themself.

Digital twins, according to Jack Latus, CEO of Latus Health, an online healthcare service specialized in occupational health, will eventually be used as “test dummies” for individuals, predicting everything from how we will recover from surgery to how we would react to specific medicines. This will develop further when our ability to map and comprehend individual genetics improves.

Consider a virtual representation of a single person where every known medicine for that person’s illness can be tested. This will allow the best treatment to be determined. It can even monitor the virtual “person” and notify you if a medical condition develops as a side-effect enabling preventive actions. Many large med-tech companies, such as Siemens Healthineers and GE Healthcare, are working on digital twins. To achieve their goal, these companies will require critical assets including massive amounts of patient data.

A sneak peek at the future of metaverse in healthcare

Making things easier for patients

With the convergence of these core technologies in the metaverse – clinicians will be able to provide more integrated treatment programs and packages, devoid of the siloed nature of much of the current healthcare system. These technologies-based solutions are already enhancing patient experiences and outcomes. Even simple procedures like intravenous injections and blood draws can benefit from them, for instance, through using Accuvein, a technology that casts a map of a patient’s veins onto the skin.

Recently, med-tech giant Medtronic acquired AI-powered surgical platform Digital Surgery, and Zimmer Biomet also introduced its new OptiVu Mixed Reality system, which uses the Microsoft HoloLens to integrate the real and virtual worlds. With such major investments in med-tech being made to leverage the metaverse, along with a growing number of startups creating AR and VR solutions, the surgical environment will soon witness radical transformation in the next few years.

Facilitating collaboration among healthcare professionals 

The ability to immediately share information between healthcare professionals would allow for quicker identification of the underlying causes of illness. Monitoring patient activity in the metaverse also allows for easier tracking of variables like compliance, which will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

Veyond Metaverse, for example, is also bringing together worldwide healthcare professionals for concurrent education, training, and planning, as well as collaborative medical operations. It uses innovative cloud and real-time communication technology to “empower doctors to practice their skills with the highest accuracy to ensure everyone receives the best healthcare service anytime and wherever,” according to the company’s website.

There is a possibility that the metaverse in healthcare will fundamentally alter and improve the industry over the next few years. Despite the optimism, there are still various obstacles on the path to standardizing metaverse in healthcare, including the adoption of smart technologies, particularly among the elderly population. Healthcare companies will also need to develop a new business model that is connected with patient health insurance, reimbursements, and prescriptions, all in this new virtual space.

However, these limitations will be accompanied by an essentially boundless user experience, breaking down geographical constraints and creating limitless possibilities for patients all over the world.

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