Facebook renaming itself as Meta was an inflection point that set the industry abuzz with speculation about the potential of the metaverse. Such major moves from big tech companies can fundamentally create a shift in the way we live and go about our business.
Another game-changer from the past that comes to mind is when Google bought DeepMind in 2014 signalling the entry of Big Tech into the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Specifically, within the context of healthcare, the AI revolution has been profound as we now see robotic surgeries being performed in every major city worldwide. In fact, the integration of AI in healthcare was so seamlessly done that most people don’t realise the extent of its impact across the entire cycle of the patient experience. I can confidently say Healthcare was one of the front runners in claiming Artificial intelligence supremacy.
Is it likely to be the same with the metaverse as well and will the Healthcare industry again find itself leading the pack? I have been pondering over this question for a while and we are at an interesting juncture. While you may think I have a slightly partisan view, I will objectively outline the use cases of metaverse in healthcare and touch upon the feasibility of each.
4 USE CASES OF METAVERSE IN HEALTHCARE
Doctor appointments: Most patients would prefer to meet a physician in-person than go through a virtual consultation. However, if the choice is between meeting a physician over a video call or in the immersive landscape of the metaverse, it would be a no-brainer that most would choose the latter as it’s much closer to an in-person meeting. The metaverse in that sense is truly an evolution over a 2D virtual model and can result in a more immersive and engaging experience for patients and doctors.
Medial education and training: This is probably the use-case that will see the fastest and most widespread adoption. In fact, there are many hospitals and other point of care organizations that are already investing in their metaverse based medical education platforms. This could be either to train their staff or to bolster their health informatics program targeted at educating patients. We will surely see VR headsets being used at hospitals in the near future during patient admission or discharge and various education and training materials built into it.
Surgical procedures: As I mentioned earlier, Artificial intelligence has entered operation theaters and doctors are using AI based robotic surgery to perform precision surgeries. The big question here is if the metaverse can make a similar impact? Today doctors operate using robots but as augmented intelligence. AI aids doctors.
Can a doctor remotely operate on a digital twin and let a robot independently replicate it on a patient without manual intervention? Given where we are with meta maturity and how a person’s replica is still restricted to an avatar, I’m not sure if this can be achieved in the next 10 to 15 years. What is definitely possible is a doctor positioned alongside a digital twin that participates in surgery as a guide or consultant in the next 5 years. However, carrying out robotic surgeries remotely still remains a distant dream.
Digital therapeutics: This is the branch of medicine concerned with the treatment of disease. Historically, digital therapeutics has been the favorite project of many CEOs but without much success. There are a few use cases in the metaverse too that the industry has been exploring. For example, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patient could benefit from being treated by a psychiatrist who makes patients interact with their anxiety triggers in a safe and immersive environment. Such psychiatrists can now track every aspect of the interaction closely which may otherwise be difficult to replicate during an in-person meeting. While this is a great start, the industry is yet to figure out enough use cases that can result in substantial investments.
To sum it up, I’m quite positive that healthcare will embrace the metaverse in specific areas like tele consultations, patient education and training over the next couple of years. Meta clinics will spring up across varied metaverse platforms and start offering remote consultations. However, engaging in surgical procedures and therapeutics will require the technology to mature and get much closer to avatar replicas than what we have in the present. Possibly in the next decade we will start seeing successful surgical procedures being carried out via robots remotely controlled in a meta environment.
As with any inflection point, those that invest early will have a substantial first mover advantage and it is paramount for care providers to invest early. However, it is even more important to be careful and discerning in picking the right use cases for these investments. Timing is key but being too early can often have an adverse impact on ROI.