Metaverse and healthcare: is it a possibility? Maybe!

Written by Himani Rathore

As humans, we spend most of our time building and using social media applications that we use on our smartphones, tablets, etc., and as powerful as that is, we have our phones with us all the time. Don’t you think that is limiting?

The CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, in interview with Gary Vaynerchuk recently said:

Through the Metaverse, Zuckerberg intends to do just that — offer a blend of today’s online social experiences, sometimes stretched into three dimensions, or projected into the physical world. It will allow us to share immersive experiences with others even if we are not physically present. But I get it, this probably overwhelms you. So, let’s break it down.

What is Meta and what is the Metaverse?

Fact: On October 28, 2021, the company that owns platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp was officially renamed Meta (with a logo that really did trend for a while).

Though Meta hopes to create a virtual world, Metaverse, an online virtual environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 3D holographic avatars, video, and other forms of communication. It will offer a hyper-real alternative world for you to co-exist. Several companies like Epic Games, Fortnite, Minecraft, NVIDIA and Roblox have already linked themselves to the Metaverse, with ambitions to be part of the evolution of this future reality (is it, though? We’ll see).

How does this play out in the real world?

A sector I can talk about here is healthcare. It’s one of the most booming sectors in terms of technological and digital advances and if we look at AR and VR today, it is garnering interest largely from the healthcare industry. More and more healthcare organisations are preparing to fortify their digital solutions with VR and AR technology for improved data analysis and healthcare practises. However, most healthcare facilities and clinics throughout the world do not yet use VR or AR technologies (yet!).

Healthcare professionals can learn how to treat their patients more effectively or execute difficult surgeries without the chance of making any mistakes thanks to the usage of VR and AR. VR can be used in a variety of ways, including for high-precision surgeries, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. The therapy of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, phobias, and depression can all be done in virtual reality, where patients can utilise VR for meditations or relaxation techniques to help them cope with their condition.

Metaverse can transform healthcare and how!

Metaverse is now combining virtual reality, augmented reality, Web 3.0, intelligent cloud, edge, and quantum computing with robotics which can open new doors in healthcare. Albert Rizzo, PhD, director of medical VR at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, told Politico that the metaverse might usher in a new era of healthcare innovation through avatars and virtual reality. Dr. Rizzo claims a metaverse worsens patient privacy issues since VR users are less cautious. Dr. Adam Gazzaley told Politico that his research at UCSF’s Neuroscape lab shows that VR can boost memory, concentration, and decision-making. Patients may be able to wander into hospitals and research sites, he says.

The novel Snow Crash (1992), by Neal Stephenson, developed the word “metaverse”, which refers to a three-dimensional virtual world in which avatars interact with each other and with software agents. After that, the idea of AR and VR becoming a reality was shown on Black Mirror, a Netflix series. The second episode of the third season, “Playtest” (2016), shows the negative effects of AI taking personal information using AR devices and using the memories of a person to manipulate them into surrendering to the device. The Oasis, the location of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018), sounds like a digital nirvana. Players can go anywhere, do anything, and be anybody they want in this amazing virtual reality world, which is the culmination of the internet’s promise. However, the Oasis isn’t perfect, much like the internet. At its foundation, Oasis is shown to be corrupted, and already exerting significant control over how users interact. A scene which depicts that you can touch and feel things around you in the Oasis, has been linked to recent news suggesting Meta’s new haptic gloves would allow you to feel things in the Metaverse.

Woah! Do we want that though? The jury is still out, tbh

There are a lot of factors that actually might slow down the big plans Zuckerberg has for the Metaverse. It has a lot of potential to involve different sectors, however as of now and as we look at the next five years, healthcare appears to be an exception.

There is a lot that drives how this tech evolves. In healthcare, taming revolutionary technology is typical practise. There are also a bunch of regulations that dictate this space. In fact, despite their widespread use, electronic health records have struggled to deliver on enhanced patient care and data sharing system. Telehealth’s pandemic benefits are already fading. Despite all the hype, there is no proof that digital health saves money or improves health. Healthcare was late to the game (well, at least to PCs). The internet was still behind. It was too late to call. No one takes social media or video games seriously. So, in the near future, at least healthcare does not consider the metaverse as a major investment.

But, who knows, this might change in the future.


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