The metaverse, or Internet 3.0, is an evolution of how individuals can socially connect with each other despite geographical distance and regional boundaries. Metaverse is set to bring a disruptive revolution in various aspects of life, including healthcare. For many decades, the delivery of healthcare has required physical interaction between a patient and a doctor in order to make a diagnosis, receive medical treatment, or perform surgical procedures etc.; ithas changed significantly with the advent of telehealth services, which have become a part of the patient-doctor interaction via digital means and the Internet. However, due to AR and VR technology\offering previously unimaginable possibilities, digital health solutions are now on the verge of taking on an unprecedentedly larger and more voluminous form.
The Metaverse involves the convergence of three main technology revolutions, each of which has the potential to have an impact on healthcare. These include Telepresence, digital twinning, and blockchain. Together, they have the potential to open up totally new channels for delivering treatment, potentially lowering treatment delivery costs and significantly improve patient outcomes.
The Metaverse concept has enormous promise, offering a fundamentally new way of human interaction and connection. The recent rebranding of Facebook as Meta demonstrates the company’s foresight and belief that Metaverse will impact the Internet and its utilization in the future.
Metaverse in healthcare has several potential applications, however, some key applications include –
Metaverse to Support Mental Health
Mental health is one of the most growing concerns in today’s time. Several factors including busy life schedules and stress, among others; immensely affect one’s mental health. Over a period of time, it leads to several other associated disorders.
The use of VR technology for mental health treatment can be traced back to the mid-1990s. Digital experiences within the Metaverse can have a direct impact on mood and behavior and can bring relief from the stress and invoke temporary happiness. Several companies are working in metaverse with the aim to transform the mental health treatment landscape. Brain fog, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), phobias, PTSD, several anxiety-associated disorders, hallucinations, and delusions are some of the mental healthcare disorders that can be ministered with the metaverse. In June 2020, a VR game called EndeavorRX by Akili Interactive became the first-ever prescription-strength video game approved by the FDA to treat ADHD in children.
However, excessive digital use can have a direct negative impact on mental health. In some cases, the person may become addicted and can have some behavioral changes. It can often result in depression, irritability, stress, paranoid ideation, somatic symptoms, and psychoses, among other disorders. Additionally, it can have a catastrophic impact on a person’s physical, emotional, financial, and social well-being.
Metaverse to Revolutionize the Medical Education and Training
AR provides an optimum environment for practical procedures rather than just knowledge dissemination. Several organizations and hospitals are already using VR technology, augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and artificial intelligence (AI) to teach doctors and medical staff by simulating real-world procedures and enabling cellular level detail of the human body. The major applications of AR and VR systems are currently in the diagnoses and pre-surgical preparation and training. The technologies in the advanced form are likely to lead to more refined visualizations and the practice of new techniques.
Currently, 8chili is a Medtech startup working on the AR/VR platform for the Healthcare Industry and building surgical training and remote collaboration platforms for patient engagement, education for medical students, and healthcare skills-based training for surgeons, nurses, and paramedics.
Metaverse can provide a 360° view of body ailments and replicate real-world procedures. Metaverse holds the potential to become one of the most important surgical training tools in Medical education and training and fosters cooperation and a high degree of immersion. As of now, the metaverse programs are still in the experimental stage, it won’t be easy to validate them. As the technology grows, the metaverse is expected to deliver potentially more advanced outcomes in the field of medicine.
Rise of Metaverse in Surgical Segment
As of now, robots are in use for surgeries, which provide a scope of greater data utilization on which VR and AR can build up the metaverse platform to perform more complex surgical procedures. Medical start-up Accuvein launched a map of the patient’s veins onto the skin, making it easier for the clinicians with simple procedures such as inserting intravenous drips, administering injections, and taking blood. Similarly, in 2020, a surgeon at John Hopkins conducted the first spinal neuro-navigation procedure conducted by an AR headset called xvision by startup Augmedic.
The metaverse surgeries require a greater understanding of the human body and also the use of instruments with a higher dexterous grasping ability. Similarly, it needs to be more flexible and adjustable on an individual basis. The future potential ranges from performing a simple procedure like removing cancerous tumors to conducting complicated spinal surgery. However, with time and more training, the surgeons can sufficiently perform complex surgeries. With the advancement in technology, the metaverse is likely to be employed in several clinical and surgical settings ranging from simple procedures to much more complex surgeries, including removing tumors and performing intricate and complex spinal surgery.
Additionally, the metaverse has the potential to improve pre-surgery and post-surgery checks and outcomes with AR. It can provide an in-depth data breakdown that will optimize the surgical outcomes. It can be a great tool for surgeons to improve collaboration and medical outcomes while sitting at a distant location.
Metaverse to Boost Fitness and Wellness
Beyond gaming, fitness is the next big application of the Metaverse. In the fitness and wellness segment, the metaverse can be used to provide personalized and smarter workouts under the guidance of virtual instructors. Additionally, VR-based exercise can be utilized to improve the quality of life for people affected with mental illness or dementia. The VR headsets provide interactive virtual experiences that can boost mood and offer positive mental simulation.
VR-based exercise is now at the center of force point for organizations wanting to gain market share and revenue. In March 2022, FitnessVR, a health and fitness metaverse powered by blockchain technologies officially opened up in Dubai as the first health and fitness metaverse. In February 2022, Alo Yoga in collaboration with Roblox announced the opening of the virtual ‘Alo Sanctuary,’ an immersive wellness space for yoga and meditation. As awareness and spending power are increasing, more and more people are expected to supplement their fitness and wellness journey with VR-based exercise.
Potential Application of Metaverse in Plastic Surgeries
Recreating or reconstructing the human body part is a complex procedure. Plastic surgery is also one of the potential applications of virtual reality (VR). With the help of a virtual avatar, it seems quite possible to accurately predict the outcome of plastic surgery. At present, Arbrea Labs is working on the face simulation tool.
Metaverse to Enhance the Patient Participation
Explaining surgical procedures and the associated complications to the patients and the general public is always a bigger challenge for healthcare professionals. However, with the support of a VR headset, it is much easier for the doctor to provide a better understanding of the surgical process to the patient with loaded scans and images. It can help the patients to get a preview of the surgery that the doctor wants to perform. Similarly, in some cases when the patient gets stressed about the surgeries, doctors with the help of simulations can teach them how to cope and handle the stress.
Benefits of Metaverse in Pain Management
VR to manage pain? Yes, it is possible to manage pain among hospitalized patients or people suffering from chronic pain or burn. VR in the better and more advanced form in the coming years, seems to be the most promising and powerful noninvasive tool to treat and manage pain. The VR is a mind-body treatment that can distract the mind from pain, and block the pain signals from reaching the brain. It is like a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management techniques. VR Pain management procedures can help to reduce fear and anxiety, especially among children and old age people. Therapeutic VR can potentially eliminate the demand for pain management drugs and the side effects associated with it.
Metaverse in Radiology Domain
The radiology segment over the past few years has observed significant growth due to technological advancement in the domain. The advent of a metaverse in healthcare is expected to unleash new capabilities in this field. Metaverse with its immersive visual capabilities is expected to provide better mage visualization in the near future. It will help radiologists to see dynamic images with more details thereby helping to better diagnoses of disease/injury and alternatively assist in making more reasonable decisions. Similarly, it provides scope for radiology training, and collaboration among different stakeholders on medical images in a 3D format, while being sitting at different places.
Disease prevention, in-home care, management of chronic diseases, rehabilitation, outpatient attendance, and consultation, are other major potential applications of a metaverse in healthcare.
Major Challenges in Implementing Metaverse in Healthcare
The metaverse, like telemedicine and mobile device integration before it, has the potential to be a significant technological gamechanger for healthcare in 2022. The metaverse’s potential is astounding since it combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to function in virtual spaces: All evidence leads to widespread adoption of the metaverse as a disruptive shift in healthcare, including better surgical precision, therapeutic utilization, social-distancing accommodations, and more.
Nonetheless, with these advancements, new problems may arise that can reshape modern healthcare as we know it. The metaverse represents a paradigm shift in healthcare that stakeholders must be aware of, from ensuring seamless integration across the current medical infrastructure to balancing starting costs and data security/privacy problems. Some of the challenges in implementing Metaverse in Healthcare include:
Attracting an Audience for the Metaverse
How can Meta and other tech companies get individuals to join them in metaverse healthcare? It is up to the users of any new technology to establish commercial momentum. This raises several concerns regarding the metaverse’s trustworthiness and utility. For example, would the elderly and others who are less tech-savvy be able to access the metaverse and receive the best care? Or are metaverse appointments seen as equally beneficial as in-person visits?
Privacy and Security in the Metaverse
Another challenge is the security of patient data in the metaverse. As the world grows increasingly reliant on technology, greater attention must be paid to people’s privacy as well as the solutions supplied by cyber security firms. Healthcare is one of the most affected industries by data security breaches, and the cost of this data is among the most expensive in the world.
Many people have become more concerned about the privacy and security of their healthcare data, and they regard it as sensitive data. To increase the likelihood of individuals adopting this type of technology, developers and technology businesses in the metaverse should explore how to keep healthcare data private and safe.
Interoperability is a critical component of today’s healthcare paradigm – and one of the most difficult to achieve with developing technology. Introducing a new aspect, like the metaverse, might have substantial and unforeseen implications on which devices are straightforward to move between platforms and networks. Unless and until the whole healthcare industry rapidly advances data and communication standards, adoption of the metaverse will be delayed and may even have detrimental consequences.
High Cost of Technology
To enable the full potential of metaverse healthcare, high-tech hardware such as glasses, gloves, sensors, and other wearables capable of reading patients’ vital signs would be required. The hardware cost is still too expensive and cannot be financed by the entire society, therefore the technology. This technology will be available only to those who can afford it, and these technologies will continue to improve and upgrade.
As a result, taking use of the new capabilities will necessitate the acquisition of new equipment that is in accordance with the development, i.e., they are nearly always upgraded more than once a year, similar to smartphones. In addition, the cost of infrastructure for healthcare providers is not likely to be low; when it comes to surgery, a high-end connection such as 5G is required.
New HIPAA Guidelines and the Metaverse
One barrier to the adoption of the metaverse will be guaranteeing the safety and security of patients’ personal information (including PHI/ePHI). HIPAA Guidelines are essential for handling and protecting the data in the healthcare industry. With the expansion of telehealth and mobile device integration, HIPAA guidelines have developed, and policymakers will need to revise guidelines to reflect the plethora of information provided by the metaverse.
Factors Driving the Healthcare Metaverse Market Growth
The Metaverse is rapidly gaining acceptance in the healthcare industry. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the internet of medical devices, virtual reality, quantum computing, and robots are all expected to change the face of healthcare and enhance patient outcomes. In recent years, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies have advanced dramatically and are now frequently employed in medical training, teaching modules, and surgical procedures to execute complex surgeries with extreme precision. These components are also employed in software and hardware to improve the performance of medical devices and equipment.
Factors such as an increasing patient pool throughout the world, an increased need for better patient outcomes, and technological advancements in the healthcare sector are projected to drive market expansion during the forecast period. Furthermore, the emergence of metaverse-focused companies around the world, increased collaborations to develop advanced AR and VR solutions for improving patient output and the overall surgical environment, and rising investments in research and development activities are all expected to fuel market growth in the coming years.
Major Breakthroughs in the Healthcare Metaverse Segment
- In March 2022, ImmersiveTouch announced Strategic Collaboration with Mayo Clinic.
- On January 13, 2022, All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi implemented new digital surgery technology from ImmersiveTouch.
- In November 2021, Metaverse Leader ImmersiveTouch Won FDA Clearance For a New Suite of Medical Diagnosis and Treatment Planning Tools.
- In June 2020, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins used AR in a procedure that inserted six screws in a patient’s spine during a spinal fusion surgery using headsets by Israeli firm Augmedics.
Key Companies in the Metaverse Market
Ambitious metaverse companies are aggressively creating the necessary infrastructure and network to gain market share and early advantage. Similarly, to minimize the external threat, companies are relying on more advanced, and secured platforms.
Globally, some of the key companies in the Metaverse Market include –
- Meta Platforms (Facebook)
- Epic Games
- NVIDIA Corporation
- Intuitive Surgical, and several others.
With the growing awareness about the metaverse and favorable policies by governments, several new players are expected to enter the healthcare Metaverse segment.
Over the past few years, the concept of metaverse has gained wide attention from different spectrums of people, industries, and organizations. It is being considered the infrastructure of the next-generation internet. Globally, tech giants are actively exploring the potential of the Metaverse in healthcare. Metaverse technology is continuously evolving and improving with each passing day. As it evolves, its potential applications in the medical field are also likely to progress, similarly, several new players are expected to enter the domain.