How Could the Metaverse Transform Healthcare?

Introduction
What are virtual hospitals?
How could the Metaverse transform data sharing?
How could the Metaverse transform data visualization and training?
How could the Metaverse transform patient therapy?
References
Further reading


The Metaverse is a virtual environment under development by Meta (formerly Facebook), with numerous potential applications in the healthcare field. Primarily, it is envisioned that enhanced communication between patients, physicians, and collaborators could be achieved using such virtual environments, which are in high demand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further potential benefits of the Metaverse include easy and secure data sharing, where it can be ensured that data ownership is tracked and protected while making it simple for patients to approve or for doctors to forward patient information. A few potential applications of virtual environments will be discussed below.

Image Credit: PopTika/ShutterstockImage Credit: PopTika/Shutterstock

What are virtual hospitals?

Early triage of patients over the phone or at outpatient clinics before a referral is not a new concept, and such methods are increasingly employed to reduce the burden on emergency healthcare. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, such methods have become increasingly important in redirecting non-vital cases away from emergency rooms and giving health advice remotely, minimizing travel and contact. Beyond these advantages, the concept of specialized virtual hospitals may have significantly more to offer if fully embraced. For example, specialized triage centers staffed by junior doctors and healthcare professionals, overseen by a consultant, would be able to advise a patient as to whether they should seek treatment at home, visit an outpatient clinic for further investigation, or go to hospital. These centers could be staffed by specialists in particular areas of medicine, and therefore be able to easily collaborate to discuss cases.

Trial centers using mainly the telephone and webcams have shown success in reducing the emergency care burden during and after the pandemic, and in many locations where travel restrictions are now lifted, the services are being maintained.

The possibility of utilizing enhanced virtual environments in such virtual hospitals could be a huge boon to accurate triage, potentially allowing physicians to examine patients in three dimensions photorealistically, should consumer-grade technology reach this stage in future. In the nearer term, merely the ability to exchange body language and facial expressions could be extremely beneficial in allowing improved communication between remote patients and healthcare professionals.

How could the Metaverse transform data sharing?

Data stored in virtual environments can be shared securely using blockchain technology, the same technology underpinning various cryptocurrencies that allows ownership to be tracked and access granted at the click of a button. Currently, the transfer of patient records between health organizations is frequently a laborious process involving approval from multiple parties, and even obtaining one’s own records can be difficult. Blockchain technology could provide patients with control of their own records and allow them to grant access remotely with ease.

Related: Is Data at the Center of Healthcare for the Future?

How could the Metaverse transform data visualization and training?

In many cases, visualization of patient data collected from diagnostic tests and various imaging scans is useful for physicians when diagnosing and observing the patient's response to treatment. In the future, data presented in three dimensions in a manipulatable virtual environment such as the Metaverse may become a valuable tool available to physicians, allowing the quick assimilation of useful information and useful clinical decisions to be actioned. Such technologies would also be invaluable in education and training, potentially allowing trainee healthcare professionals to experience first-hand surgeries, autopsies, and other medical procedures in a completely safe environment. The value of such a training tool cannot be understated; realistic virtual training simulators are already extensively utilized in other fields, such as aviation.

Further, following the initial investment in software and virtual reality equipment, significant savings relating to the cost of training cadavers and other consumables could be made, allowing a higher throughput of trained professionals.

Image Credit: metamorworks/ShutterstockImage Credit: metamorworks/Shutterstock

How could the Metaverse transform patient therapy?

Virtual environments such as the Metaverse may also play a larger role in patient therapy in the future for a range of conditions, largely psychological. For example, various phobias have been treated by exposure to fear, and thus virtual environments could be used to gently expose patients in a safe environment. Such therapeutic strategies may also be applied to other disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or depression, in tailored virtual experiences. The potential collaborative power of the Metaverse would also allow therapist- or patient-led support groups to easily find one another and meet from around the world in a setting more engaging than a text-based support group.

Image Credit: Asia Images Group/ShutterstockImage Credit: Asia Images Group/Shutterstock

There a numerous potential beneficial applications for realistic virtual simulations, many of which are in the early stages of investigation as technology improves to meet the challenge. For example, haptic sensors that simulate patient movement within the virtual environment could have applications in movement rehabilitation and easing the symptoms of Parkinson’s, while distracting virtual reality experiences have shown some success in replacing pain medications when changing the wound dressings of burn victims or in easing blood collection from children.

As of 2021, the virtual reality healthcare industry was reportedly valued at around $1.2 billion, estimated to reach almost $12 billion by 2028. Meta has invested billions of dollars into making the Metaverse a reality within the last year. However, it will be some time before the healthcare industry sees the full benefit. One major hurdle to adopting the Metaverse is the need for virtual reality headsets and possibly other haptic technology, meaning that the average patient is unlikely to possess the required equipment, particularly the older generations.

References

  • Patel, K., Shokouhi, B., Bosonnet, E., Savundra, E., & Kabatas, H. (2019). The Virtual Hospital. Future Healthcare Journal6(Suppl 1), 83–83. https://doi.org/10.7861/futurehosp.6-1-s83
  • Sreelakshmi, M. & Subash, T. D. (2017). Haptic Technology: A comprehensive review on its applications and future prospects. Materials today: proceedings, 4(2).
  • Suzuki, S. et al. (2020). Virtual Experiments in Metaverse and their Applications to Collaborative Projects: The framework and its significance. Procedia Computer Science, 176, 2125-2132.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Michael Greenwood

Written by

Michael Greenwood

Michael graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a B.Sc. in Chemistry in 2014, where he majored in organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. He is currently completing a Ph.D. on the design and production of gold nanoparticles able to act as multimodal anticancer agents, being both drug delivery platforms and radiation dose enhancers.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Greenwood, Michael. (2022, December 29). How Could the Metaverse Transform Healthcare?. News-Medical. Retrieved on February 01, 2023 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Could-the-Metaverse-Transform-Healthcare.aspx.

  • MLA

    Greenwood, Michael. "How Could the Metaverse Transform Healthcare?". News-Medical. 01 February 2023. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Could-the-Metaverse-Transform-Healthcare.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Greenwood, Michael. "How Could the Metaverse Transform Healthcare?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Could-the-Metaverse-Transform-Healthcare.aspx. (accessed February 01, 2023).

  • Harvard

    Greenwood, Michael. 2022. How Could the Metaverse Transform Healthcare?. News-Medical, viewed 01 February 2023, https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-Could-the-Metaverse-Transform-Healthcare.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
Post
You might also like...
Unfavorable healthcare experiences may increase the likelihood of caregivers to self-medicate