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How virtual reality and the metaverse can improve patient safety

Article-How virtual reality and the metaverse can improve patient safety

The next incarnation of the internet will unlock major healthcare benefits, believes healthcare VR entrepreneur Dylon O’Leary.

The pending metaverse is poised to make healthcare interactions more fun and engaging, according to Dylon O’Leary, UK founder of virtual reality (VR) company Myhealthcare and recipient of Innovate UK funding, all while underpinned by powerful blockchain encryption. 

The current wave of VR applications is already unlocking healthcare benefits from drawing nursing talent to navigating cancer tumours in 3D, he highlighted. 

Immersive reality and haptic technology for better patient safety

“A lot of the missing part of cancer detection could be an actual image in virtual reality of a particular CT or MRI scan,” O’Leary explained, before introducing an example from Microsoft - a mixed reality headset.

“One of the more interesting applications in healthcare is HoloLens, which allows you to look through a scan and see it in more detail. It’s augmented reality because you can interact with it and move the image around.” 

Another VR use case is training which, through the power of touch and gamification, could even attract more people to the healthcare profession – which may especially prove of benefit to the industry at a time of shortages. 

“One of the main benefits with the training aspect of virtual reality is its immersive nature. With the Oculus Quest you can use haptics, which allow you almost gamify healthcare in a way which makes it more interesting to learn,” O’Leary said. 

He pointed to recent training modules that he had found uninspiring. 

“I looked at the training programmes that nurses were following for COVID. And they were really boring, and quite long-winded and tedious. I think condensing and making them more concise and interesting would make people go you know, ‘I want to become a nurse’ or ‘I want to become a doctor’.”

He offered the example of a diabetes assessment that would allow the physician to manually interact with the patient as if they were immersed in an actual physical situation. An image projected onto a dummy would for instance enable a more realistic experience. 

The other major healthcare benefit is improved patient safety.

“The main benefit of virtual reality is re-enacting a simulation without having to go through the procedure itself. As it gets more accurate you can recreate scenarios more effectively – and this means not endangering patients as much,” O’Leary explained. 

All this can be achieved at relatively low cost. VR equipment that can be used for generic training purposes costs no greater than a PlayStation 5 gaming console (in the 1,400-2,000 Dhs range), while the applications themselves are also highly affordable, he said. 

Furthermore, a 360-degree video can easily be recorded and uploaded to YouTube with an affordable VR camera. Special effects can thereafter be added through an application such as Adobe Premiere Pro.

An option for creating a more sophisticated VR application meanwhile is through Unity, a platform that enables developers to create VR applications for free.  “It’s not that difficult. It’s a very simple principle – I’ve seen online videos of people doing it,” O’Leary said. 

From immersion to communication

The “metaverse” is a virtual world concept that will take VR further, with the potential to facilitate more engaging healthcare interactions in real-time through avatars.

“I think communication will be key, between patients, doctors and pharmaceutical companies. It adds a bit of fun and excitement to dealing with people online - people sometimes people dread virtual meetings. You are also able to send across documents in a physical way, unlike in Teams or Zoom for example.”

Any interaction between a physician and patient may begin with face activation or facial recognition as technologies advance. 

“The biometric side of this is going to be important,” he said. “The artificial intelligence algorithms will be able to recognise you, and these will be encrypted. I’m not even sure you need a password.”

Health data privacy and security

While it is “crucial” that such AI algorithms are regulated, the encryption aspect will be critical to how the metaverse is run, O’Leary believes, with blockchain playing an important role to ensure that no data is lost. 

He also anticipates greater personal ownership of data. 

“I imagine a healthcare application where there would be an opt out, opt in at the beginning of the process, because I don’t envisage that people will want to give away their data that freely in the future,” he concluded. “I think data will become a personal commodity. People will own their data - and that will actually give them some wealth.”

If you found this interesting, watch our video of a recent panel discussion involving Dylon O'Leary. 

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