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New Horizons in Healthcare – Medicine’s Metaverse

Written by.EXARTA

To many, the Metaverse is merely a second-life simulation – where the consumer puts on a heavy headset, designs an avatar that looks like them, buys that avatar a pair of virtual Nike Air Jordan shoes, hangs out with friends, and invests in artificial real estate to pass the time. Shopping, chats, gameplay, which avatar can wear the best Nike sneakers? A ‘trivial toy‘ for consumerism – that’s it. Believe us: that’s not it.

Healthcare is one of those industries in which we constantly look for new answers. It can never be good enough, and we must continuously seek improvements. There are always better methods for getting the job done. There are always higher success rates to meet to serve patients. And that’s where the infinite possibilities of the Metaverse align perfectly. The goal is definitive: to simplify and improve current clinical and surgical procedures by merging the real with the virtual.

So… How are leaders in the medical space making big moves, and more importantly – why?

Digital Twins and Medical Education

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Let’s kick things off with a good ol’ definition of the digital twin: a virtual model, or simulation, of any object, process, or system generated using real-world data to reflect its real-world counterpart. When applied to healthcare, the digital twin could be the patient themselves

Traditional medical training has come a long way. However, it still provides limited resources for the practice of surgeries, especially when combined with the high costs of medical student tuition fees. With the introduction of VR medical training, students can still have hands-on training in a simulated, immersive surgical environment, but at a significantly lower cost.

That’s because digital twins will effectively become “test dummies” for medical students, used for the prediction of an entire array of possibilities: from how patients recover from surgery to the reactions they may experience from specific treatments, as a result of an increasing ability to map out and understand individual genetics. To think that we may be able to foresee a patient’s future health from the wonders of technology? How will they be affected if ‘x’ happens? If we administered ‘x’ type of medication? Yes – this is real!

Moreover, the dissection of virtual patients in place of human bodies is cost-effective and enables students to work individually for training purposes. They can improve their technical abilities with less risk on intricate clinical case prototypes that they would only otherwise experience on a live patient.

Let’s think back to the implications of the global pandemic: the largest healthcare crisis in modern history. Virtual teaching models became crucial as medical colleges and nursing schools had to terminate offline classes. And the Metaverse stepped up.

Thankfully, cloud gaming technology enabled physicians in different locations to practice procedures collaboratively on virtual patients over Zoom. A modern version of Hasbro’s infamous Operation? A little more advanced, you’ll be glad to know.

There’s no special app or headset required. The virtual patients (with realistic replicas of human body fluids and soft tissues) are all simulated in the cloud. 

The Metaverse is becoming far more than a platform for gaming. Just like Fortnite enables large groups of players to play competitively in a shared environment, this technology can allow up to hundreds of trainee medical practitioners to collaboratively diagnose and treat virtual patients at in-person and online medical conferences across multiple specialities. Intending to cure, though, medicine’s meta journey is less of a Hungar Games vibe. Phew.

VR: The new physical therapy

Image Credit: community.connection.com/

Using haptic sensors to recreate the sense of touch (by creating a combination of force, vibration and motion sensations), it’s possible to develop dynamic rehabilitation programs that enable patients with Parkinson’s disease to overcome the severity of their condition and live more fulfilling lives.

Last year, The Denver Post reported the story of 26-year-old patient Michael Heinrich. He was riding his motorcycle on his university campus in Michigan when a rotted tree fell on him and snapped his neck, paralyzing him from the waist down. After weeks in intensive care and more than two months of rehabilitation, his occupational therapist introduced him to virtual reality. Heinrich discussed his experience:

“What I really enjoyed was being an eagle trying to go through rings,” he said, describing a virtual reality experience. “From an emotional standpoint, coming off an injury where I lost the majority of the use of my body, VR pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible.”

VR has thus proved essential to medical practitioners and patients alike. It has an incredible emotive ability to motivate patients to push through physical boundaries they thought were impossible, as a double-whammy superpower that speeds up the healing process both physiologically and psychologically. This drug-free treatment can improve quality of life and provide specific data to the clinician on how often and well the patient accomplished each exercise and where adjustments were needed.

Meta-Hospitals & Telepresence

Image credit: www.cryptotimes.io

As we’ve seen from the global pandemic, the practicalities of remote medical consultation in the face of disease and illness are undeniable. It can be incredibly challenging for elderly, immobile, and severely sick patients to visit doctor’s surgeries, so online consultations have continued even after the pandemic. According to Forbes, before 2020, just 43% of healthcare facilities could provide remote treatment to patients; today, that figure stands at a whopping 95%. And for routine consultations that don’t require a physical examination, doctors and nurses have found that they’re able to more quickly and meticulously diagnose minor conditions that make up the vast majority of their cases via telephone or video call.

So how does the Metaverse make an impact? The ongoing need for remote consultation combined with the relentless endeavors to use VR in the medical industry foresees a path of moving from video calls to more immersive interactions. Instead of relying on local consultation services, for example, a whole network of doctors in the Metaverse could bridge the gap between patients and medical staff by providing quality medical services that aren’t easily accessed locally.

VR Telemedicine consultations mean patients are no longer limited to being treated by only clinicians regionally close to them. Let’s think about the bigger picture here. If you’re in Europe and the best specialist to deal with your particular condition is in India, you can be in the same room by putting on a headset. Scans and tests are carried out at a facility local to you, with the data transferred to the specialist, wherever they are in the world. It’s beneficial for patients in remote regions who would ordinarily have to travel great distances to be seen by healthcare professionals.

The VR experience of the Metaverse can also give doctors a more detailed look at a patient’s radiology reports through high-resolution 3D modelling. Moreover, the advancing technology and portable healthcare gadgets such as an oximeter, heart rate monitor, and blood pressure monitor that can sync with the internet allow for data collection right from your home. As the future of healthcare is data-driven, a patient’s data can massively improve the diagnosis and treatment of their health issues.

Wrapping up

The Metaverse is becoming far more than a place for gamers to explore new virtual worlds, a place for shoppers to experience new realities, and a place for us to connect with one another. The Metaverse is making a difference to human quality of life in unimaginable ways, offering a chance to bring people together by transforming industries that must evolve not only for human experience, but for human health and wellbeing. What next, you ask? Who knows… 

Written by Hannah Clayton, Exarta.

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