Healthcare and the metaverse are two distinct concepts rapidly converging in today's digital age. The metaverse, or the 3D internet, a virtual space where individuals can interact with each other, connect digitally, and immerse themselves in high-fidelity environments, has gained immense popularity in various industries. Similarly, the healthcare sector is evolving to provide innovative solutions for patient care through the metaverse using virtual reality, augmented reality, and digital twins. Integrating healthcare and the metaverse holds significant promise in revolutionizing how we approach and deliver medical services. This article explores healthcare possibilities in the 3D internet and highlights key players in this emerging field.
How can the metaverse be used in healthcare?
The metaverse healthcare market is anticipated to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.28% and is predicted to achieve a value of $54.47 billion by 2030, as published by Appinventiv. The growing adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) platforms for conducting complex surgical procedures with improved precision and flexibility is set to drive the overall market expansion. Here are some ways healthcare providers are using the metaverse:
Virtual reality in medical training
Medical professionals and experts increasingly utilize VR as a training tool for doctors and medical staff. VR technology allows trainees to immerse themselves into a simulated human body that they can view from multiple angles and at different scales, providing a comprehensive 360-degree view of a patient's condition. These interactions can be recorded and viewed on desktop screens, enabling learners to observe and analyze minute details. For instance, FundamentalVR demonstrated a VR surgery simulation with haptic gloves at the AAOS (American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons) conference that offers immersive surgical training and reduces surgical complications.
Use of augmented reality in surgical procedures
AR is used in complex surgical procedures to achieve precise and flexible outcomes, building upon the existing use of robotics. Surgeons are exploring new methods to enhance precision and accuracy in intricate surgeries, such as tumor removal or spinal procedures. Leading institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic employ AR for medical procedures, including spine surgeries and catheter placement, enhancing surgical preparation and execution.
A digital twin is a virtual replica of a process, system, or product generated using actual data to gain insights about its real-world counterpart. In healthcare, patients can be represented by digital twins in the metaverse, allowing for various applications such as predicting surgical recovery or understanding patient reactions to medications.
For instance, Sonaphi, a medical diagnosis app, utilizes bioacoustic science to showcase the connection between the human body's functioning and voiceprint analysis. Soniphi integrates human voice information collected through an individual’s smartphone into a consistent, reliable, secure digital twin.
Personalized healthcare plans
Personalized healthcare plans in the 3D internet improve well-being by combining data with advanced algorithms to cater to individual needs. XRHealth has led notable advancements in the space through its VR-powered physical therapy program that facilitates consultations between patients and therapists who devise tailored care plans delivered via VR. Additionally, GestureTek Health, a company using interactive technology in healthcare, has developed virtual reality physical therapy games that immerse patients in virtual worlds, enabling clinicians to monitor and customize activity parameters based on different treatment levels.
The field of digital therapeutics is rapidly expanding, encompassing various applications such as cognitive therapy, support groups, psychiatric assessments, rehabilitation, and even physical therapy facilitated by VR and AR technologies in the metaverse. These technologies show promise in diagnosing and treating various mental health conditions, including phobias, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder ), ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), eating disorders, autism, and panic disorders, among others. The metaverse helps manage these mental health conditions by offering unique opportunities for exposure therapy, social learning, addressing dysmorphia, and creating positive experiences for patients with anxiety.
VR and telehealth converge to allow patients to receive remote medical consultations and treatments in immersive virtual environments, revolutionizing how healthcare is accessed and delivered. McKinsey reported that telehealth had witnessed a 38X rise than before the pandemic and has stabilized around this metric. Several telemedicine companies now provide healthcare virtually; a prime example is Doctor Care Anywhere, a virtual urgent care platform that enables new and existing patients to conveniently consult with qualified providers anytime using phones, tablets, or other devices.
What is the metaverse in medical diagnosis?
In the 3D internet, medical professionals can use virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to analyze, evaluate, and diagnose various medical conditions. It is a digital environment that enables healthcare providers to interact with realistic 3D models, medical data, and patient information, enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of diagnostic processes.
Here are a few ways that medical diagnosis occurs in the metaverse:
Detailed exploration of anatomical structures: Medical professionals can visualize organs, tissues, and systems from multiple perspectives in the 3D internet. VR and AR technologies allow them to enter the human body and examine complex structures virtually. This technique helps identify abnormalities or pathologies that may be difficult to detect through traditional methods.
Simulating realistic scenarios and virtual medical procedures: The metaverse enables collecting and combining large amounts of data from medical imaging procedures like CT scans or MRIs to help plan surgeries or treatments. Professionals can practice complex medical techniques without risking patient well-being. For instance, haptic feedback systems that simulate the sense of touch can facilitate the assessment of virtual tissues or tumors that require complicated surgical procedures.
Facilitating global collaboration and knowledge-sharing: Healthcare providers can interact in real-time within the metaverse. The metaverse enables discussions on challenging cases and allows professionals to seek expert opinions across disciplines and locations. This virtual collaboration promotes a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis, enhancing accuracy and patient outcomes.
What healthcare brands are in the metaverse?
Pharmaceutical companies: Pharma companies are leveraging the metaverse to collaborate between stakeholders, conduct clinical training, increase efficiency in drug development, and provide patients with better healthcare services. Kronans Apotek, Sweden's third-largest pharmacy chain, collaborated with Metabloxz to launch a metaverse pharmacy to empower consumers with enhanced medication tracking, prescription monitoring, educational resources on medication usage, and timely medication reminders.
2. Health insurance companies: Health insurance companies can utilize the metaverse to streamline operations, enhance customer experiences, interact with customers, and address new risks. Insurers in the metaverse can use digital avatars for training and support or build new sales channels for insurance in the metaverse. For instance, AXA built its presence in The Sandbox to provide customers with immersive experiences around wellness and healthcare.
Virtual reality companies: Virtual reality companies offer immersive digital experiences through virtual environments, enabling users to interact, train and engage with simulated worlds using specialized equipment and technologies. ARuVR is an extended reality training platform that partners with clients from diverse industries, including healthcare, construction, finance, and logistics. They recently assisted a biopharmaceutical company in developing an XR platform for scalable training.
4. Hospitals: A virtual hospital in the metaverse breaks down distance barriers, allowing patients to access services remotely. It also allows hospitals to reduce operational costs, train healthcare professionals and streamline health checkups. UAE's Thumbay Group is working on launching a metaverse hospital using AR and VR for patients to access healthcare anywhere.
5. Healthtech startups: Healthtech startups are leveraging emerging technologies like Web3 and artificial intelligence (AI) to transform healthcare experiences and provide innovative solutions for improved patient care and well-being. Croatian startup NAOMI offers a virtual mental health assistant app whereby users choose their focus area (e.g., stress, anxiety) and receive anonymous guidance through thought-provoking questions and cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. The app connects users with certified psychotherapists if needed.
Hospitals in the metaverse
Within the metaverse, hospitals use technologies like cloud computing, AR, VR, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to create virtual environments where medical professionals, patients, and researchers can converge and interact in new ways. Medical professionals can examine and monitor patients without in-person visits, reducing patient wait times and readmission rates. With increasing applications for hospitals and healthcare providers in this virtual world, the global healthcare market in the metaverse is on track to reach $9.5 billion by the end of 2023, as a Markets and Markets research report estimates.
UAE metaverse hospital
The UAE’s leading healthcare provider, Medcare Women & Children's Hospital, launched in the 3D internet to give patients an immersive digital touch point before they visit the physical facility. They aim to use the virtual replica of the hospital to showcase their available infrastructure and conduct virtual consultations to attract patients to avail of their services.
Another healthcare provider in the UAE, The Thumbay Group, is also building a metaverse presence combining virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) technologies, and AI to streamline patient care processes. Patients can immerse themselves in the digital hospital as avatars, virtually tour facilities, and even schedule remote consultations with doctors from their homes, eliminating long wait times and distance barriers. The metaverse hospital also benefits patients physically in the facility by allowing them to connect virtually with their families back home using AR and VR technology. In addition to the entirely virtual hospital, the Thumbay Group is incorporating VR and AI-driven tech tools into its hospital systems to allow for facial recognition through cameras. For example, patient identification can occur automatically upon arrival, eliminating the need for identity or insurance cards.
In conclusion, the convergence of healthcare and the 3D internet has the potential to reshape medical services and patient experiences. The metaverse offers exciting opportunities for telemedicine, virtual training, and assistance for complex surgical procedures. Virtual hospitals can enhance accessibility, overcome geographical barriers, and actively empower patients to participate in their healthcare journey. However, integrating healthcare with the 3D internet also presents challenges, such as ensuring privacy, security, and equitable access to these technologies. Collaboration between healthcare professionals, technology experts, policymakers, and other key stakeholders will be crucial in navigating these challenges and harnessing the full potential of the metaverse in healthcare.
Are you a healthcare provider or company looking to enhance your offerings through immersive digital technologies? We can help build, scale, and optimize your presence in the metaverse to streamline operations and improve customer experiences. Get in touch with us!
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