The metaverse, the virtual shared space in which people can interact and communicate with each other and with virtual objects and experiences, has attracted attention and scepticism in equal measure.
Promoted by Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg as a way to facilitate socialisation, entertainment and business, the metaverse has also been increasingly identified as a revolutionary tool for the healthcare industry.
One key area in which the potential of the metaverse is in no doubt is telemedicine.
Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communication technologies to provide clinical healthcare services remotely, and it has become increasingly popular to access medical care during and since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, before the pandemic, just 43 per cent of healthcare facilities in the US had the ability to provide remote treatment to patients. With the figure today at around 95 per cent, the demand for tools that facilitate remote services is clear.
The metaverse could provide a unique platform for virtual consultations with healthcare providers, allowing patients to receive care from anywhere in the world. This will help healthcare professionals diagnose minor conditions in a more personal setting than over the phone.
Education, education, education
Another potential application of the metaverse in healthcare is in medical education and training. Medical professionals could use the metaverse to participate in simulations and virtual reality training exercises, allowing them to practice their skills without the need for physical resources such as cadavers or specialised equipment.
The metaverse could also be used to create ‘digital twins’ – virtual models of physical objects generated using real-world data. These are typically used to simulate various real-world processes and scenarios to better understand how they would interact in reality. In the metaverse, these digital twins could allow healthcare professionals to practice on digital copies of patients to help them understand how specific treatments would affect them.
Therapy and rehabilitation
Remote rehabilitation and physical therapy are other areas that could be facilitated by the metaverse. Patients could use virtual reality exercises to improve their mobility and coordination from the comfort of their own home. This could be particularly useful for individuals living in rural or remote communities, or for those with mobility issues that make it difficult for them to travel to a healthcare facility.
In addition, the metaverse could be used to host virtual support groups and therapy sessions for patients with chronic conditions or mental health issues. These virtual support groups could provide a sense of community and connection for individuals who may not have access to in-person support.
Ultimately, the metaverse could be used to create a kind of virtual hospital in which medical professionals can undertake all manner of services, from diagnosis to therapy.
Although Mark Zuckerberg won’t be eliminating physical medicine any time soon, his tool could significantly reduce the burden on doctors and nurses by providing an outlet for swift, efficient remote diagnosis and treatment.