Realizing the full potential of the metaverse to enable future-ready healthcare

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The metaverse has become a hot topic fueled by major disruptions and investments in the technology sector. From the rebranding of Facebook to Meta and Microsoft’s $68 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard to significant improvements in display hardware and consumer connectivity, the promise of a major evolution of immersion, social interaction and human-machine interfaces quickly become a reality.

Generally, the metaverse is seen as an XR (extended reality) interface to the next interconnected global network. Today, these are manifested in a wide variety of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality apps that work across multiple devices. The metaverse vision enables interoperability across the ecosystem that enables users to have portable identity, assets, and state across the entire metaverse.

While most of the current activity is centered around games and e-commerce, it is recognized that for the metaverse to reach the level of ubiquity that we have seen with today’s Internet, it must support use cases that appeal to everyone and not be considered just a video game. This is demonstrated by a growing market of enterprise use cases as well as social, academic, and health applications that go beyond gaming and into professional, enterprise, and consumer demographics. Platforms like Microsoft’s AltspaceVR and Mesh, along with newer players like Spatial and ENGAGE VR, as well as Meta’s Horizon suite, provide metaverse platforms designed for audiences outside of gaming culture. and young people.

The metaverse is still in its infancy with significant advances in technologies, standards, policies and governance mechanisms that still lack the sophistication needed to realize the larger vision. The pace of progress and the disruptive levels of investment made have reinforced confidence that the vision will become reality and the future may not be far away. The metaverse healthcare market is expected to grow from $5 billion in 2021 to over $71 billion by 2030, according to a report by InsightAce Analytic. Growth is fueled by technology enabling patients and healthcare providers as well as drug and medical device manufacturers with clinical research organizations to engage remotely in a truly transformative environment.

Healthcare industry leaders are already showcasing apps that are early indicators of the metaverse’s potential impact on healthcare. An early example, Pfizer launched the Hemocraft app which uses a modified version of the popular game system Minecraft to provide an immersive environment for young people with hemophilia to learn the importance and how to manage their treatment routines. Another example is Roblox which, in partnership with Akili Interactive, has developed a metaverse app allowing patients with attention deficit disorders to engage in innovative ways through their platform. Although currently considered gaming platforms, Minecraft and Roblox are evolving as metaverse platforms supporting use cases that go beyond gaming.

For patients, the importance of having telepresence access to physicians has been amplified by the pandemic and the industry has seen increased demand for more engaging, personal yet virtual interactions between patients and healthcare providers. . For example, the use of virtual reality in the treatment of mental health has been shown to have tangible clinical advantages over other telemedicine technologies. Startups such as XRHealth have developed virtual reality digital therapy apps based on established evidence-based therapies that support a variety of mental health conditions.

The impact of better telemedicine goes beyond patients simply having better video consultations with their doctors. Pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to speed up drug research and clinical trials. The Metaverse provides a compelling element in the decentralized clinical trial efforts that many clinical research organizations and drugmakers have embraced. These transformations can reduce the time to market and costs of new drugs while helping to address major issues such as inadequate patient enrollment that medical investors are increasingly seeing.

Life science companies are also changing the way they interact with doctors and other caregivers towards a digital strategy. The Metaverse offers these companies the opportunity to host medical education events such as congresses, simulations, interactive trainings and brand launches through immersive experiences that produce more effective learning outcomes than others. digital channels. For example, the concept of a digital twin can be realized more effectively in a metaverse environment. This digital twin can reflect real-world medical information and the patient could be diagnosed, treated and measured through simulations in the metaverse. This type of immersive simulation as a learning device can provide better health outcomes compared to other remote digital learning systems. Switzerland-based Medicalholodeck has deployed virtual reality applications that are used for surgical planning and medical training. The University Hospital of Münster in Germany uses this app to train neurosurgeons.

For the healthcare metaverse to truly evolve, some major issues will need to be addressed. Data protection and privacy issues, “safe spaces” for personal health care discussions and interactions, standards for sharing information within the metaverse and between the world real and the metaverse, and concerns about identity management and trust all need to be addressed. These same issues have been addressed in the non-metaverse digital landscape, but the nature of the metaverse and its presence adds to the complexity of these issues. The healthcare industry recognizes this, and standards organizations such as the Metaverse Standards Forum address it in a structured, disciplined way that brings together expertise from across industry and academia while drawing lessons learned with the modern Internet.

The impact of the Metaverse in healthcare is already being realized and as the rapid pace of innovation continues, we expect to see significant increases in the usefulness of the Metaverse for all stakeholders in health. Patients will have better access to high-quality care and be able to use next-generation digital therapy to improve their health outcomes. Doctors will have better interactions with their patients and will have access to better information from drug and device manufacturers. Manufacturers themselves will reduce the cost and time needed to develop products and the metaverse will generate valuable data that will result in better and safer products. There are important steps to take to evolve the metaverse to its full potential. However, these are well recognized and the leaders of the metaverse are solving them at an unprecedented rate. The next few years will see major changes in healthcare and the metaverse.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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