Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

A broken bone, an abscessed tooth, or a heart attack are all real, and they can’t be simulated. Treatment for physical ailments is oftentimes necessary and urgent. In other words, it is difficult to envision a truly mixed-reality healthcare metaverse, where participants collaborate and transact in immersive virtual spaces via headsets and controllers. To date, the majority of virtual worlds have been built around gaming or social interaction rather than healthcare.

  • It’s too early to tell whether “healthcare in the metaverse” will take off.
  • For starters, medical schools, operating rooms, and skilled nursing facilities already use virtual, augmented, and mixed reality elements of the metaverse.
  • Startups and established firms are collaborating to find new applications for emerging technologies. Everyone wants a piece of the $4.1 trillion healthcare system’s ills.
  • There will be regulation. FDA’s Medical Extended Reality Program, which is a precursor to establishing regulations for future augmented and virtual reality devices, is currently reviewing prototypes.
  • Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality are being used in healthcare in a variety of ways today.
  • Is the metaverse still a mystery to you? Our metaverse primer can be found here.
  • The use of augmented reality in the healthcare industry
  • With the help of a virtual reality headset (VR headset), people with PTSD and substance abuse disorders can be treated, chronic pain is managed, and seniors in care facilities can deal with depression, dementia and anxiety.

Here are a few of the most recent ones:

  • Acute stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury are among the neurological conditions that can benefit from MindMaze’s FDA- and CE-approved technology.
  • As part of a one-year agreement, AppliedVR and clinical study platform Curebase will conduct five clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of VR-based therapy for the treatment of chronic pain in patients who are treated in their own homes.
  • Luminopia, a virtual reality startup, received FDA approval for its VR treatment for children with amblyopia (lazy eye). Heru received $30 million in funding in May 2021 to develop its AI-driven, VR-based vision test.
  • To help seniors in nursing homes overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation, Rendever offers virtual reality experiences that can be enjoyed by multiple people at the same time. A new product from the company, RendeverFit, combines physical fitness with social interaction to help older adults improve their cognitive function while also improving their physical health and well-being.

Additive perception

  • There are numerous health care applications that use augmented reality (AR) technology, which is used to enhance real-world environments by projecting digital information on to them.
  • Right now the focus is on surgical applications, but there are other potential uses in the works:
  • An extended reality startup called Surgical Theater collaborated with Medtronic to provide neurosurgeons the ability to test their surgical strategies before entering the operating room, and then use AR during procedures to give surgeons a live, 3D view superimposed on the surgical area.
  • Virtually “scrubbing in” to operating rooms around the world is now possible thanks to a partnership between Teladoc and Proximie, a health tech company that specialises in AR-enabled surgical support systems.
  • Mojo Vision, in collaboration with Adidas Running, Trailforks, Wearable X, Slopes, and 18Birdies, developed a consumer-facing application that uses augmented reality (AR) to provide real-time feedback to athletes as they train or compete. In addition, the company is working with the FDA on an early application to help people with visual impairment by using enhanced image overlays.
  • In the near future, two major tech companies are expected to enter the market. Even if they initially target consumers, applications for industries such as healthcare will soon follow.
  • Google is reportedly working on an AR headset code-named Project Iris, marking its first return to AR/VR since its failed Google Glass initiative.
  • As reported by Insider, Apple expects its augmented reality headset to arrive in late 2022 with processing power comparable to that of an iPhone, the product it hopes AR will replace in a decade.

Unresolved issues

  • MR, also known as “extended reality,” is a hybrid of virtual and augmented reality that incorporates both real-world and digital elements.
  • There’s already a major tech company there. In March 2021, Microsoft revealed its mixed-reality platform Microsoft Mesh. Its HoloLens headset, designed for B2B purposes, projects a hologram of a person or objects that users can interact with as if they were together in person.
  • The platform’s next iteration, Mesh for Microsoft Teams, rolled out in November. Smartphone, laptop, or mixed reality headset users can join shared holographic experiences like virtual meetings, or let their avatars move around in immersive spaces.
  • A number of healthcare providers are already using Microsoft Teams for telehealth, albeit without the HoloLens Holograms, which are HIPAA compliant.

Healthcare providers are experimenting with other applications of mixed reality:

With AR/MR solutions provider ThirdEye and Crozer Health’s four Pennsylvania hospitals, first responders can give doctors and emergency room staff relevant medical information before a patient is taken to the hospital in a timely manner.

It is HIPAA-compliant and allows direct communication with the hospital via telehealth with ThirdEye’s X2 MR glasses. The glasses can detect the patient’s temperature via thermal sensors and send that data, along with audio and visuals captured by the glasses, to waiting clinicians.

Becoming a “digital patient”

“Digital Me” was one of Gartner’s top emerging technology trends in 2021. Brain-machine interface (BMI) and digital twins are examples of technologies that fall under this umbrella. In order to control external hardware or software, such as a computer or a robotic arm, the BMI wearable or implant is used to translate neuronal information into commands. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object or process that can be used in real time.

But the technology is already in use, so we’re not there yet. People with motor or sensory impairments currently benefit from BMIs. To help businesses, some companies like IBM have developed “digital twin” technology, while Twin Health has developed a “Digital Whole Body Twin” to help people prevent and reverse metabolic diseases.

As for avatars, they’re there, too.

  • Avatar Medical helps surgeons visualise medical images by creating patient avatars.
  • Using virtual reality (VR), Medical Avatar creates “Healthy Selfies” that show users what their future bodies and health will look like and feel like.
  • Not just businesses are affected. Megan Chesal, a medical physics graduate student at Louisiana State University, is developing medical avatars with the long-term goal of fighting cancer. In the short term, she’ll be working on radiation protection for astronauts and their equipment in space.

Is there a healthcare metaverse that we could envision?

  • There is a need for a healthcare metaverse that goes beyond the immersive multi-user avatar-driven games that are currently available in virtual worlds like World of Warcraft, Second Life, Roblox, and Minecraft.
  • As imagined today, each metaverse could have its own in-app items, its own currency, and—even with healthcare—various levels and stages that need to be unlocked or levelled up to access new content and experiences.
  • Gamification is already a part of digital therapies for PTSD, substance abuse, and lazy-eye syndrome, among other conditions, in the healthcare industry.
  • As in Meta’s Horizon Worlds portal, users would likely have to pay a subscription or other ongoing fee to access a healthcare metaverse portal controlled by an organisation or corporate entity. Health insurers, health systems, and physicians’ practises could set up accounts for consumers to pay for coverage and services, a practise that is already commonplace in the healthcare industry.
  • Metaverse proponents hail interoperability as a game-changer. Theoretically, participants could transport their avatars, cryptocurrencies, and other data between metaverses. It is still difficult to achieve true interoperability in healthcare, where patient health data can be easily transferred from one electronic system to another. I doubt it will ever be developed in the metaverse.
  • Hardware, on the other hand, is a completely different storey. To interact with healthcare providers in a virtual environment requires the use of VR or AR goggles and controllers, hand controllers, perhaps even a full-body haptic suit (think Teslasuit).
  • People’s lack of access to broadband and other essential technologies was exposed during the pandemic’s early days when virtual telehealth visits were implemented. The high cost of a healthcare metaverse is a deterrent to its adoption for many patients.
  • Adoption will take time and trust. There’s an increasing number of “quantified self” fitness wearables on the market, such as the Apple Watch, Google Fitbit, and Amazon Halo. Digital therapeutics or remote patient monitoring devices directed by providers are being found in VR, AR, and sensors.
  • However, many patients and caregivers may find it too difficult to interact with medical professionals in the metaverse of a healthcare provider via AR, VR, or MR.
  • US Adults’ Comfort with Emerging Technologies* for Preventative Care and Health Monitoring? (Nov 2020) (percentage of respondents)
  • For many consumers, technology is a roadblock, but so is the fear of a data breach. On the dark web, patient health information is highly sought after by cybercriminals.

By Adam

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