Emerging technologies are driving significant healthcare innovation. Notably, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) have enabled the following:
- Taking the learner inside the human body for a 360-degree view of patient symptoms.
- Duplicating real world procedures.
- Enabling virtual office visits.
The AR/VR growth projections are significant.
COVID significantly increased the number of healthcare procedures utilizing standalone AR/VR. AR/VR growth was also stimulated by other integrated technologies: IoT, cloud and quantum computing. Together they are improving healthcare and serving as entry points into the Metaverse. Expectations are high.
“The metaverse will be to VR and AR what the modern smartphones were to the first mobile phones a few decades ago.” Paulo Pinheiro, Sagentia Head of Software
Although it is in its embryonic stage, the Metaverse is positioned to build on the advances that AR/VR have made in the healthcare sector.
COVID motivated the acceptance of remote medical service by patients, providers, and insurance companies.
“Pre 2020, 43% of healthcare operations could provide remote treatment, now service coverage is 95%.” Forbes
This became a necessity, but all parties have appreciated both the effectiveness and efficiency of virtual office visits. Improvements extended to routine office procedures for intravenous injection and blood draws. Procedures that are facilitated by Accuvein’s application which displays vein maps on the patient. AR applications are simulating patient and surgical procedures, providing the opportunity for students to visualize and practice. Therapeutic VR applications are improving the quality of life for people living with dementia. One study with five environments over sixteen monitored sessions resulted in mood improvements and positive stimulation.
The Metaverse promises to combine AR/VR and support interaction in a virtual world. The previously mentioned technologies coupled with artificial intelligence, connectivity and interoperability will create interactive and immersive activities.
Headset utilization will address the distance barrier providing access to medical point of need care, anytime, regardless of where the expert is located. They will also assist in providing standard medical care to remote geographies.
Telemedicine overcomes the barriers to entry and the stigma of mental health and substance abuse services. People seeking help are more comfortable with a point of need remote therapy delivered by telemedicine. They are less anxious than when making a in person visit. With help “always on” to deal with episodes, events, or temptations reinforces new behaviors and reduce relapses. The Metaverse will enhance this delivery channel with more interactive and immersive features, especially for the younger generation who are early adopters.
Using a virtual duplicate of a person, digital twin, will be a powerful, non-invasive tool to understand more about each patient. It will support personalized medicine checking for drug interactions and effectiveness for each individual and understand previous treatments, and longer-term health and longevity benefits.
There are two potential benefits for surgery. The effectiveness of pre-surgery and post-surgery assessments, integrated with data science techniques applied on the digital twin will provide a more personal approach. This has the potential to replace the “standard of practice,” approach to delivering healthcare. Additionally, AR can provide the training and test data for surgery robots of the future, executing cancer tumor removal and spinal surgery.
In achieving interoperability, the Metaverse will break down the technology and information silos that drive up complexity and costs. Real-time sharing of information will facilitate a patient focused delivery of healthcare and deliver personalized medicine.
Advancing to the Metaverse will test the medical community, at least as much, if not more than the Metaverse’s delivering all the required technology. There will be resistance to change issues:
- Trust will need to be earned from the patients and providers.
- Senior citizens and others may be averse to the technology required to gain Metaverse access.
- Protecting patient privacy.
- Regulations for data security.
- Integration to existing medical technology.
- Funding start-up costs for hardware, and software.
- Data conversion addressing institutional knowledge and regulations.
Metaverse’s change will also extend to healthcare business models. Healthcare players will need to build strategic plans to address the following:
- Provide new compensation approaches for services delivered with a virtual approach.
- Payment systems will require new codes for claims processing for Metaverse services.
- Software and device compatibility for operating in the Metaverse.
- Physicians’ ability to prescribe medication and therapy virtually.
Physical and cognitive treatment, and AR/VR support groups happened before the Metaverse craze started. For the Metaverse to get traction, it will need to deliver virtual services which are improvements over current alternatives. Acceptance and trust in technology as the delivery mechanism will be critical in overcoming resistance to change. Metaverse’s potential for healthcare is significant, but there is still much to discover to address industry complexity, costs and coexist within or transform current regulations.
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