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Metaverse: The Next Frontier in Healthcare?

The metaverse may be the next big thing, but it will likely take another decade before it’s being used actively in the hospitals or medical practices.

The healthcare technology industry is constantly evolving due to new innovations in the medical space. From MRI scans and X-rays to robotic surgeries and virtual reality, the healthcare sector is seeing massive digital transformation.

As per a study, the US healthcare spending is estimated to touch $8.3 trillion by 2040 from $4 trillion in 2020 due to the adoption of new and emerging health technologies.

The announcement of an emerging technology -- the Metaverse by the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zukerberg -- triggered its potential usage in the healthcare sector. Metaverse is a promising technology and holds lucrative opportunities in the medical field.

This can be used to address certain issues such as mental health, access to health without geographical limitations, virtual wellness, and fitness, and just to connect with people.

Metaverse is a parallel reality or visual representation of reality, however it’s neither augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), or MR (mixed reality), but an amalgamation of these technologies that also includes artificial intelligence as well.

Further, this technology requires another 10 years of work before people can access it in games, shops, travel, and the healthcare sector. Currently, medical facilities are using VR and MR to assemble medical tools or to design a surgical room and operations.

The World Health Organization is utilizing AR to train COVID-19 respondents and VR is actively used by the mental health experts for treating PTS (post-traumatic stress), and medical schools use it for education.

Likewise, metaverse in the healthcare sector is predicted to help healthcare professionals in numerous areas via a combination of these technologies. Hence, metaverse has the potential to be the next frontier in the healthcare sector.

Here are three areas in which the metaverse is likely to gain dominance in the healthcare industry.

1. Surgical operations

Currently, surgeons use technologies such as AR, VR, AI, and minimally invasive surgeries for augmenting patient outcomes. Leading hospitals and universities use these technologies for surgeries because this gives a 3-D view of a patients’ body, and helps to interpret surgeries, plan, and perform them.

VR and AR simulation is used for surgical training and is widely used for efficient, safe, and measurable medical training. However, VR or AR comes with unique technical challenges in the healthcare field.

These obstacles include creation of realistic physical objects and surgical interfaces within a computer-generated space, representing interactions between items, and processing signals for complicated events during surgeries.

Furthermore, VR systems are limited to specific clinical settings and mobile VRs offer pocket size immersion. Resolution of devices and computer specifications are limiting aspects for medical facilities.

These challenges can be overcome with the intervention of the metaverse in the healthcare sector as it offers space and realistic interaction between doctor -- patient, including objects. Thus, making it easier to explain surgical operations to patients, along with complications if any.

2. Mental health

The metaverse raises interesting concerns regarding mental health such as the following:

  • Addiction to virtual realities
  • Harming people suffering from mental disorders such as psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety
  • Revolutionizing mental health treatment altogether

Metaverse in mental health can be used for the treatment of various brain issues such as phobias, PTSD, anxiety disorders, hallucinations, and delusions. Technology has changed the way we seek support from friends, family, colleagues, or healthcare professionals during mental breakdown.

Companies working in the virtual reality space are devising mental wellness applications for metaverse as this technology holds potential benefits for our wellbeing. For instance, in February 2022, Dr Lisa Cortez aka The Anxiety Dr, declared the launch of the Moody Minks, which is an NFT collection to bring mental health in the metaverse.

Moody Mink Society is set to become home to the first META-tation center and NFT holders will be able to access events held by The Anxiety Dr. The visitors of metaverse can interact with each other and play games, attend virtual events, and visit galleries.

Metaverse has an interactive nature and provides an arena for online therapy, improves access to therapy for disabled people, and renders a life-like experience. Usage of psychotherapy formats in the metaverse can help individuals with phobias, stress, addiction, eating disorders, psychosis and much more.

3. Medical education and training

Metaverse application in medical education and training would be to produce an augmented reality space to examine the anatomy of a human body in a laboratory setting. This technology holds potential opportunities for creating a new educational environment.

This new environment offers space for communication, provisions for new experiences, freedom to share and create, and high immersion. Challenges suggested are privacy impingement, maladaptation to the students in real world, and commission of crimes.

VR is being used to train doctors and medical providers by stimulating real procedures and displaying cellular level data of the human anatomy.

Currently, AR has made its way in the medical school curriculum and has shown a positive outcome to medicine. For instance, Novarad Corp., a medical imaging software company, announced the launch of its AR software for higher education.

Likewise, a combination of these two technologies in the form of metaverse will augment overall medical education in the coming years. Medical teachers can use this technology to help students solve problems, perform projects, build creativity, and create a learning space for all students.

No doubt, metaverse is the next big thing in not only the medical field, but it will take another decade before it’s being used actively in the hospitals or medical practices.