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Metaverse Healthcare: The Now and Future of Healthcare
Many industries, including gaming and entertainment, are racing to claim a place in the “metaverse.” Healthcare is no exception. As per a study, US healthcare spending is estimated to reach $8.3 trillion by 2040 from $4 trillion in 2020 due to the adoption of new and emerging technologies.
In the previous virtual reality in healthcare article, we talked about how healthcare professionals can transform the lives of patients in a virtual world. Here, we will discuss how metaverse and healthcare are transforming the lives of both physicians and patients in areas of training, education, and treatment.
Healthcare In The Metaverse
Metaverse is expected to play a crucial role in the healthcare sector by combining emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and Web 3.0 to redefine how people give, and receive medical training, treatment, and education in the future of healthcare.
The healthcare industry is likely to undergo a digital transformation in these 4 areas: medical training, medical education, patient treatment, and mental health treatment, which will be discussed below.
What is Metaverse Healthcare?
The term “metaverse” was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel. Thirty years later, we haven’t arrived at a universal definition for it yet. However, it is generally believed to be a single, shared, immersive, virtual environment that takes advantage of the 4 major technological trends today—Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Realities, Virtual Realities (AR & VR), and Web 3.0—for human beings to experience their everyday life in a way they could not in the physical world.
The term “metaverse healthcare”, as its name suggests, is a futuristic place where medical and healthcare professionals and the general public give and receive medical training, education, and treatment more effectively, and efficiently with the most immersive experiences.
Medical Training In Metaverse Healthcare
The “immersive” aspect of the medical metaverse makes it the perfect place to train medical professionals, preparing them, particularly for complicated surgical procedures, and enabling physicians from different locations to engage in low-risk, and low-budget medical training.
For example, in a simulation training of a surgery, trainees can get a full, close-up view of the surgeon’s procedures, which can be video recorded for later study and review, and interact with different tools to practice and sharpen their skills while observing. The same processes can be repeated multiple times before performing the real surgeries.
The interactive, learning experience is enhanced thanks to VR technology, as it takes the trainees inside the human body and provides them with a 360° view of the patient’s ailment.
Leading hospitals and universities are already using technologies such as AR and VR for surgeries, because they provide a 3D, comprehensive view of the human body and help physicians plan, prepare and perform the surgeries.
In 2020, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins performed the institution’s first AR surgeries on live patients. In one of the procedures, they placed six screws in a patient’s spine to relieve the patient’s chronic back pain. They even once removed a cancerous tumor from the spine of a patient.
In an operating room, a patient’s digital twin—which is discussed in the next section—can be projected on top of the physical body during surgery. This helps surgeons to see the patient’s real-world data, including CT and MRI data, and know precisely where the needle, scalpel, or drill should go with a comprehensive view of the anatomy in VR.
In addition to hospitals, medical device and life science companies can also make use of the VR technology to train healthcare professionals on their devices or systems by for example creating a virtual version that allows them to engage with.
In the healthcare metaverse, by working collectively and collaboratively on a virtual patient, physicians can train on countless human bodies in the virtual environment anytime, anywhere, something they were only able to do on live patients in the real world. With the space and freedom offered by metaverse healthcare for communication and sharing, it brings doctors and patients closer together.
Medical Education in Metaverse Healthcare
The “virtual” aspect of digital health involves “digital twins” (digital twinning)—which is a digital replica of a person, object, process, or system throughout its life cycle. According to a market research report, it is estimated that the digital twin market will reach USD 115.1 billion by 2023, a 23.2% growth compared to USD 5.1 billion in 2020.
Digital twins not only enable doctors to diagnose live patients without putting them at risk but also play a crucial role in the development of medical education and the improvement of communications between clinicians and patients.
In the healthcare metaverse, a digital twin is a virtual model of a patient-generated using real-world, real-time data, including CT, MRI, and ultrasound scans. In other words, it acts as the patient.
It is common that when you visit a doctor, they tell you one part about your health and when you visit another doctor, they tell you another part. But with digital twins serving as a digital record of a patient, they bring all these data together and consolidate them to offer better patient care.
Digital twins not only help healthcare professionals understand patients’ conditions but also investigate solutions for rare diseases. They can leverage this technology to recreate diseases such as heart anomalies, skin disease, and even COVID-19’s impact on the lungs to test their solutions with deleterious effects on the patients.
Noteworthy to mention here is metaverse healthcare has allowed AR and VR applications to serve purposes such as therapy and support groups. Take BodyMap for example. It has been used by a patient group to visually explain, and illustrate the disease they were diagnosed with, such as which body part is ill and which has led to the symptoms they all share.
Overall, digital twins have helped break down the barriers between doctors and between their patients by improving surgical procedures and patient engagement.
Patient Treatment in Metaverse Healthcare
The metaverse healthcare market is expected to reach USD 5,373 million by 2030, according to Market Research Future. This indicates that many healthcare companies or hospital chains are joining, or considering joining the virtual world of healthcare to improve patient care.
Today, 95% of healthcare facilities adopt telemedicine—the provision of medicine as a remote service—thanks to emerging technologies such as AR and VR accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical therapy, rehabilitation, and support groups are now taking place in the metaverse in healthcare.
Take physical therapy for example. When put on VR headsets, patients who are reluctant to move or challenge themselves due to suffering from pain are more willing to move in ways they haven’t in a long time. They can do virtual exercises to improve their mobility and coordination from the comfort of their homes. By keeping patients engaged and motivated, VR technology has improved patient compliance—the biggest challenge in physical therapy today.
You can read more about how VR technology is changing the way we receive treatment and education in the medical field in this VR in medicine post.
The healthcare metaverse is especially beneficial for individuals living in remote regions with a shortage of medical professionals. Patients no longer need to travel a long distance to see them or receive treatment from particular clinicians due to their physical location.
Eventually, whatever we are already accustomed to, such as visiting a hospital or clinic to receive diagnoses and treatments, will be the same but quicker, and more accessible in the metaverse in the healthcare.
Mental Health Treatment in Metaverse Healthcare
Metaverse healthcare is not only transforming the way people receive “physical” treatment but “mental” treatment as well. The “virtual” aspect of metaverse healthcare can help treat mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, phobias, and PTSD.
Let’s say you’re in Italy and the best psychiatrist to talk to about your depression is in India, you can simply put on a VR headset and have a 1-on-1 session in the same room. Wherever you or your specialists are in the world, scans, tests, results, and treatment plans can be carried out at a facility near you, with the data being transferred to the specialists, wherever they are in the world.
What is more, companies like Samsung and Greener Games have developed VR apps to help people control, manage or overcome their anxiety or fear. Virtually Better is a platform being used by healthcare professionals to help patients overcome their fears of for instance flying or thunderstorms with VR experiences.
WHO Academy has also launched an app that utilizes augmented reality (AR) technology to help health workers expand their knowledge and skills to battle COVID-19, and care for patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Its 20-minute AR course teaches them how to properly put on and remove personal protective equipment (PPE), which is critical in keeping them safe.
Metaverse’s Impact in The Future of Healthcare and Medicine
Metaverse is reinventing the healthcare industry with a combination of AI, AR, VR, 5G, data sharing, and Web 3.0, fueled by the need for social distancing and contactless procedures. These technologies significantly transform healthcare, including medical training, disease treatment, and prevention. However, there is still a long way to go before healthcare fully undergoes a metaverse transformation.
It will take another decade before metaverse is being used actively in hospitals, despite it being the next big thing in the medical field, according to a news analysis on InformationWeek. Eventually, every hospital or clinic will play a role in the healthcare metaverse where they communicate and collaborate on having medical training, education, and treatment on a routine, daily basis.