New Delhi : Metaverse, the new buzzword amongst healthcare, a collective virtual shared space is no more a mystery box. This new emerging technology which is more prominent in the cryptocurrency market and gaming segment is now slowly proliferating in the healthcare domain. Some of the big hospitals are already adapting the digital virtual space of ‘metaverse’. ETHealthWorld explores what does this new technology ‘really’ mean for healthcare? How will this technology make transformational changes, break the physical rules of the real world and redefine the future of the health domain.
Answering these questions, the domain experts share that the metaverse is here to break the traditional healthcare ecosystem. It will make things easier for the patients to overcome geographical constraints and create limitless possibilities for delivering treatment, lowering costs, and significantly improving patient outcomes in healthcare.
Striking a balance between physical and virtual world
The metaverse is not just a hype, but it is of substance, when it comes to healthcare, inform healthcare bigwigs. The road to adopt the metaverse is rapidly catching up, as the gap between healthcare delivery and digitization has narrowed down with telemedicine, robotic surgery and remote monitoring picking up.
Informing that metaverse is here to stay in healthcare, Rajiv Sikka, group CIO, Medanta Hospitals, whose views expressed here are a personal opinion tells ETHealthWorld that from the nascent stage of gaming, entertainment and socializing, the technology to support metaverse is steering to the role of transforming healthcare.
“There are many explicit positive trends but the most important, in my view, is that some of the underlying technologies metaverse encompasses are already in existence for a relatively long period of time and include VR / AR, AI, IOT, Robotic, Block-chain, etc. All of these technologies, though individually have the potential to impact healthcare delivery, but combined together, can dramatically improve patient care, amplify efficiencies, and, hopefully, reduce the cost of delivery. Additionally, commercialization of enhanced processing power like quantum and edge computing, intelligent clouds and Web 3.0 is enhancing the speed of scalability and deployment. The rolling of 5G, the fast speed network will further add to the experience part,” Sikka added.
Mentioning that metaverse in healthcare can be revolutionary, Lalit Mistry, partner and co-head, healthcare sector, KPMG in India, said,” Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. The technology can be instrumental in bringing the patient and healthcare provider closer to each other with enhanced immersive experiences like that of face-to-face consultation. It can help remotely located patients get the right care, right diagnosis, receive medical treatment, or assistance in medical procedures from the experts sitting in different geographies in real-time and during the golden hours. It has the potential to open novel channels for delivering treatment, potentially lowering treatment delivery costs and significantly improving patient outcomes. At the same time, there should be a striking balance between the real and virtual world. This is because the brand-new visual stimuli and interactive experiences could make people addicted to the virtual world and unable to extricate themselves from it. It is therefore critical to find a way to balance the relationship between the real world and the metaverse, letting the latter play a more positive role.”
Informing that digital healthcare backed by technology plays a pivotal role in delivering value-based care across the healthcare spectrum across the world, Vishal Gondal, founder-CEO, GOQii, said, “Adaptive intelligent solutions can help lower the barriers between hospitals and patients, improving access to healthcare services and enhancing overall patient satisfaction, particularly in smaller towns and cities. Currently, people are not motivated or incentivised as much to make a life change, open metaverse can change this. Health metaverse’ can empower people in the virtual as well as the physical world to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get incentives in the form of tokens or rewards.”
As per experts, the new technology should strike an optimal balance between virtual and in-person healthcare. Metaverse is seen as the horizon where both physical and virtual worlds merge. It should define properly and further promote the way telemedicine, remote monitoring, digital twins and block chain technology are used.
Making Virtual a ‘Reality’
The metaverse technology is set to be an enabler of creating an entirely new perspective for the practice of medicine, as it breaks the physical rules of the real world, inform health experts.
Talking about the era of digital health, which is transforming healthcare at a rapid pace in India, Girish Raghavan, vice president-engineering, GE Healthcare, said, “At the forefront of this evolution are key exponential technologies like AI/ML, AR/VR, which have converged to act as catalysts for the metaverse in healthcare. Driving efficiency and ease in data sharing across the system, while introducing scalable health solutions, is key. The metaverse presents an opportunity for healthcare practitioners – integrated health information, remote monitoring and swift data sharing, enabling clinician collaboration, treatment pathways can be more informed and holistic — drawing on comprehensive patient data.”
Further, giving detailed insights, Sikka informed that an advance and important applicability of metaverse in healthcare would be preoperative surgical planning, which is a critical success factor for any surgery.
“In a surgery, the surgeon has to manoeuvre through a complex 3D space. Traditionally, surgeons had relied on non-intuitive 2D scans (video or images) and mentally re-constructed its 3D equivalent as a precursor to surgery. This skill of conversion from 2D to 3D relies on the individual experience of the highly skilled surgeon, which is not scalable, and at times, may not be precise enough for a complex surgery. With metaverse, different images (CT, MRI, DTI, angiography etc), can be fused to create an interactive and immersive environment. This way of pre-operative offers near perfect planning by simulating real patient models. Additionally, the metaverse platform can make it highly customizable at every level, be it patient models, surgical scenarios and other parameters. During the live surgery, metaverse technology in conjunction with the actual scans of the patient can assist the surgeons with much needed 3-D X-ray vision of the patient’s anatomy,” Sikka informed.
He also added that the metaverse platform helps in the next level for effective patient education and disease awareness by helping anxious patients to the procedure before-hand and getting more informed surgical consent. The other important relevance of the metaverse would be reshaping the future of therapy delivery. Being part of the highly sensitive environment, healthcare staff requires dedicated training in skills, knowledge, behaviour and discipline. Metaverse is a cost-effective, scalable, high impact and long-lasting training platform for staff behaviour.
Stressing that telemedicine, digital twins and blockchain technology are going to grow leaps and bounds due to metaverse, Mistry said,”The healthcare and medical fields have a great opportunity to provide extremely enhanced telemedicine experiences with metaverse for better experience and access to healthcare overcoming geographical limitations. The technology presents an opportunity to create what is known as the digital twin of a body organ or even a whole human body in a 3-D format that would allow for performing surgeries as well as diagnosing and treating diseases. Digital twins can be used in drug clinical trials, medical care, and surgical rehearsals to help provide patients with more efficient and effective services. AI can create pre-life simulations to build digital prediction models for patients, providing prediction record analysis and decision support throughout their lives.”
Elucidating about telemedicine and the block-chain factor, Sikka said, “Block-chain as part of the essential technology component of metaverse, is best suited to address the concern about the sensitivity of the patient data. Every aspect of business is prone to disruption or getting disrupted, and healthcare is no different. In my opinion, metaverse has the potential of disruptive transformation, and more so in tertiary healthcare. The next logical step of telemedicine is transition to the metaverse for more life-like experience by conveying a far greater sense of “being there” compared to conventional video conferencing platforms.”
Moving towards era of digital patients
Experts point out that metaverse offers an opportunity to recreate an interactive version of the content, where the users are immersed in and engaged with the content.
“Metaverse is going to transform the upcoming generation as it will essentially make every patient in the world feel in control of their health because every piece of data they would want to know will be instantly available in front of their eyes. Furthermore, healthcare providers will be able to fully use their skills not to do basic treatment and diagnosis, but to actually make critical decisions during life-threatening conditions,” Mistry stated.
Informing that in the health metaverse, the domain professionals will be able to deliver more collaborative treatment programs, not hindered by the current siloed nature of the existing healthcare system, Gondal said,” It will benefit in terms of swift information sharing between doctors and clinicians and that means that underlying causes of ill health could more quickly be established. Monitoring of patient activity in the metaverse means factors such as compliance could be tracked more easily, which would further assist with diagnosing and treating illness.”
Mistry emphasised that metaverse will help healthcare providers interact with the patient and operate effectively in an interoperable, less centralized, fully digital environment. He teiterated that the adoption of metaverse in healthcare will depend on engaging the patients similar to the way companies use the web, social media, or smart speakers to engage with or deliver their products to customers.
According to the experts, a new emerging virtual space will revolutionize the way people interact, connect, and work together but at the same time has challenges to overcome.
Highlighting a few challenges, Sikka said,”Before the metaverse pervades healthcare, it has to address a few challenges of handsets and compelling applications. Available headsets are costly, uncomfortable and clunky. Moreover, the higher cost of headsets should not further contribute towards the already existing inequality in healthcare access. Also, the applications have to be calibrated for precision, the tertiary healthcare demands and have to integrate all five senses, including haptic.”
Adding to it, Mistry notified that lack of interoperability and uniformity among the various metaverse platforms can be a challenge. As the technology is currently expensive and not so easy to set up AR/VR tools, this might limit the metaverse to a smaller consumer segment.
As a whole, experts cite that with increased interest and investment, adopting metaverse in the healthcare domain should have a well-thought-out roadmap and an omnichannel delivery architecture. This virtual bus journey needs to culminate in the real and reel world as it will be dealing with patient lives when it comes to the healthcare domain.