The metaverse is a virtual space that many big tech firms believe will become the next big thing. There is a lot of discussion about what the metaverse will look like and how it will impact people’s everyday lives; however, it is still more concept than reality at this stage. What will the metaverse look like, and how might it impact healthcare in the coming decade?
Many believe that the metaverse will become an extension of what we currently view as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). People would enter the metaverse using a headset and find themselves in a connected digital environment that could be used for work, leisure, or socializing.
In recent years, there has been so much technological progress in the VR space that many tech giants, such as Facebook (now Meta) and Nvidia, are investing considerable fortunes to be at the vanguard of the development of the metaverse. Early signs suggest that one of the key beneficiaries of the products in VR technologies will be healthcare, with the impact already being felt today.
How Surgical Procedures Might Change within the Metaverse
Robotics is already used within the surgical healthcare arena, meaning that there is already a firm foundation on which VR and AR can build upon in the metaverse by being used in more complex surgical procedures.
AR is already being used to provide surgeons with data streams that help them optimize their surgical processes and sterilize the operating theatre while providing real-time guidance and imaging data as the surgeon is working on a patient. For example, technologies like Accuvein projects a map of a patient’s veins onto their skin, helping clinicians with simple procedures such as inserting intravenous drips, administering injections, and taking blood.
Moving forward, it is believed that metaverse healthcare will improve pre-surgery and post-surgery checks with AR providing more in-depth data analysis upon which to optimize surgical outcomes. Meanwhile, more practical applications could see AR used in several clinical and surgical settings, from simple procedures to much more complex surgeries, including removing tumours and performing intricate and complex spinal surgery.
Improved Healthcare Training in the Metaverse
One of the big attractions of healthcare in the metaverse is the feeling that anything could be possible. For example, it could become a training environment for the next generation of surgical robots to understand and learn how to operate on humans through AI and machine learning.
As with the surgical environment, metaverse-friendly technologies are already widely used in the training of healthcare professionals. VR headsets give doctors and medical staff unprecedented virtual access to the human body, helping them visualize conditions and allowing procedures to be replicated within a virtual-clinical setting for students to observe.
AR will have the ability to be able to build upon these existing technologies within the metaverse and recreate or simulate encounters between clinicians and patients within different settings. This could range from regular consultation and check-ups to surgical meetings where students learn and practice new techniques.
Further developments could see actual surgeries recreated within the metaverse, allowing students the chance to fully immerse themselves into the surgical setting as if they were the surgeon themselves. The benefits of a surgical environment hosted within the metaverse could revolutionize the student experience by allowing students much more hands-on experience within a safe environment.
How the Metaverse Could Transform Wellbeing and Fitness
VR technologies have already been used in the gaming industry for several years; however, by recreating those mechanics in the metaverse, healthcare providers will be able to connect remotely with patients and provide them with opportunities to offer well-being and fitness classes.
Currently, the use of any VR or AR technologies within the fitness arena is primarily limited to apps. For example, AR delivers workout guidance from instructors virtually, meaning that service users and fitness professionals can work remotely and be more innovative with their time.
VR technology has also been proven to help stimulate brain activity in people who have dementia. An increasing number of studies have been undertaken to monitor the impact of VR environments on dementia patients, with results showing that as well as improved memory recall, patients also displayed better interactions with caregivers and less aggressive characteristics.
It may be possible to allow dementia patients to use the metaverse to connect with environments that help to stimulate memories and re-connect with friends and family in an AR setting. This would bring significant benefits for the patients and their loved ones.
VR and AR technologies are likely to be used increasingly in the wellbeing and fitness arenas, with people being offered several new ways to keep fit from home, but with the development of the metaverse also being able to do so in a social setting. Additionally, the increasing use of VR and AR mechanics within the gaming world will see gamers no longer sitting still for hours but using their bodies within a metaverse to interact with friends and families while enhancing balance coordination and improving their overall fitness levels.
Healthcare in the Metaverse
VR and AR solutions are already profoundly ensconced within the healthcare sector, providing a range of benefits to healthcare professionals, students and patients alike, and it’s highly likely that as these technologies develop, healthcare will continue to be at the forefront of using them.
An ever-increasing number of medical tech companies focused on developing innovative VR and AR solutions that will continue apace over the coming years. That will have a significant impact on how surgical environments will operate.
There is no guarantee that these new technologies will give healthcare a place within the metaverse; they may offer improved real-world solutions. However, with the metaverse still at the embryonic stage, firms have enormous potential to harness in the enhancement and transformation of healthcare provision. How they do, that will be fascinating to watch.