The doctor will see you now… in the metaverse

What’s happening? The metaverse could enhance the health industry, reducing fragmentation and improving trust, according to a report by Accenture. It said if the “internet of place” and “internet of ownership” could combine, it would enable virtual interactions with doctors and patients, and ensure data security, via technologies such as blockchain. However, the right digital infrastructure needed to be in place. In a survey of more than 391 health care executives in 10 countries, 80% said the metaverse would positively impact the health sector, Accenture said. (MedCity News)

Why does this matter? Technologies that are converging to make up the metaverse are already having a positive impact on health care.

For example, cloud gaming can help doctors across multiple locations to collaboratively practice medical procedures with virtual patients via video calls. It can also help companies train health care professionals on how to use their products, which can save time while driving up sales and performance.

Patient data, such as from MRI, ultrasound and CT scans be combined to create a digital twin. These can be used in surgical planning, to monitor disease progression and treatment, to predict how patients respond to medicines or how they might recover from procedures. AR headsets can allow surgeons to project digital twin data onto patients so they can see “inside” them to precisely perform complex operations.

What about existing technology? We’re already seeing smart beds, devices and materials that can monitor patients’ vital signs – such as pulse rate, breathing and temperature – which can send data directly to health care professionals to act on in a timely way.

In the future, however, patients will be able to attend hospital appointments in the metaverse in the form of avatars so doctors can view them almost as they would in real life. This has the potential for people to see doctors outside of their localities and even in other countries.

People with mental health issues such as phobia and anxiety could benefit from safe places inside the metaverse where they will be able to receive therapy, mindfulness training and exercise lessons, among other activities. For individuals experiencing loneliness, it can help them feel more socially included and to seek others with similar interests.

What are the downsides? Accenture’s report highlights several issues that health care leaders will need to take into account as they prepare for the technologies that will make up the metaverse over the coming decade.

As products converge, there will be an increasing number of entry points that could pose cybersecurity risks. They need to be aware of and act against deep fakes that can infiltrate medical images and spread false information, potentially leading to negative patient outcomes.

They also need to understand a range of data and how it can be collected and used. Identifying what skills and capacities they may need in future – such as 3D artists, game designers and technological platform experts – needs thinking about now.

The report also urges caution that, as the metaverse develops over the next decade, without careful consideration, it could deepen health inequity. People currently without access to digital technologies – perhaps due to cost or an inability to use them – and those who are blind or deaf, could miss out on the care opportunities that become available. The design of the layers involved in the metaverse must ensure that it can be accessed by all people, regardless of any limitations they have.

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