Inter-Dimensional Well-Being: Healthcare and the Metaverse

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Are we on the brink of a new healthcare paradigm? Telemedicine and other technological developments have been contributing to an evolution in healthcare for years, but some feel that a quantum leap is imminent. Could a catalyst for a new model be barrelling down the tracks in our direction? Some say the metaverse is just that. 

As the concept of the metaverse gains attention, much is being made about its potential to redefine the way we socialize, game, shop, work, and live. Is there any reason to believe that healthcare will be any different? 

What is the Metaverse? 

Depending on who you ask, the metaverse offers either outstanding promise or great peril. Most of us have difficulty fully grasping the concept and for good reason: it doesn’t really exist yet. 

The company Meta, who you may remember as Facebook, described it in lofty terms within their name-change press-release.

“The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. It will let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together — and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for our company.”1

The Metaverse, Technology, and Healthcare 

Recent healthcare breakthroughs have made use of developing technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the internet of medical devices, and an array of rapidly improving software and hardware. The metaverse promises to facilitate a leap forward in compatibility between various tools and platforms, which may unleash new possibilities in healthcare. It also promises to make virtual interactions seem more life-like, a potential boon to uptake. 

The big leap will consist of transforming these features into a comprehensive meta health ecosystem,” says Prof. Florencio Travieso, of Emylon Business School in France. “We can see the clear opportunity: creation of avatars for more realistic consultations, personalized care, treatment and diagnosis through data interconnectivity, use of digital twins, simplified providers and payment.”2

“This is a promising concept for healthcare, which thrives on interaction between the physician and the patient,” writes Sal Balasubramanian for Forbes. “If it can elevate virtual care from a 2d to a 3d experience, it may become a generation-defining revolution in medicine.”1

Healthcare’s Futuristic Present 

Even as we speculate about future possibilities, it’s important to recognize the extent of what’s already being accomplished. Devices are being utilized to monitor patients remotely, tracking health metrics and using data to inform decision making. Wellness and fitness apps are using gamification to promote healthier practices. Operating rooms are being designed with the aid of augmented reality, while psychiatrists are using virtual reality to treat post traumatic stress among combat soldiers.3

Neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins have used AR medical technology to place screws into a patient’s spine during a spinal fusion and remove cancerous tumours. 

“It’s like having a GPS navigator in front of your eyes,” said Timothy Witham, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Spinal Fusion Laboratory.3

Educators at UConn Health have teamed with Canadian medical software company Precision OS to train residents using Oculus Quest headsets. Procedures such as nose surgeries can be practiced virtually, allowing mistakes to be analyzed and corrected, which seems a lot better than rearranging a person’s face while working out the kinks in your surgery skills. 

“In the digital environment, we’re not bound by physical objects,” said Barry Issenberg, MD, Professor of Medicine and director of the Gordon Center. “Now we can guarantee that all learners have the same virtual experience, regardless of their geographic location.”3

Developments such as these could be enhanced even further if innovators are afforded the opportunity to seamlessly join forces. NVIDIA touts their Omniverse platform as “an easily extensible, open platform built for virtual collaboration and real-time physically accurate simulation. Creators, designers, researchers, and engineers can connect major design tools, assets, and projects to collaborate and iterate in a shared virtual space.”4

Metaverse Potential and Unanswered Questions 

The metaverse remains as much a theory as a reality, which means that its future impact upon the healthcare system is largely theoretical. Privacy and cybersecurity concerns linger, as do questions about technology’s impact on the humanistic aspects of medicine. Nonetheless, optimism persists. 

“As Meta’s experiences, apps and services evolve, you can expect health strategy to play a role,” says a spokesperson for the company, conceding, “it’s far too soon to say how that might intersect with third-party technologies and providers.”3

Cited Sources
1  Sai Balasubramanian, M.D. “Facebook’s Evolution into ‘Meta’ Has Incredible Potential to Revolutionize Healthcare.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, November 1, 2021.
2 Travieso, Prof Florencio. “Is There a Place for Healthcare in the Metaverse?” HealthManagement, October 29, 2021.
3 Woods, Bob. “The First Metaverse Experiments? Look to What’s Already Happening in Medicine.” CNBC. CNBC, December 4, 2021.
4 Sai Balasubramanian, M.D. “The next Frontier for Healthcare: Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and the Metaverse.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, December 10, 2021.