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The Future of Healthcare in the Metaverse

A look at how the metaverse may affect healthcare delivery and medical product development

HFE metaverse

December 14, 2022

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse is the augmented virtual world that can be described as the convergence of virtual and physical space. Put simply, the metaverse is the internet, but in 3D. It is a place where users can interact within experiences that simulate the real world or imagine new worlds beyond it.

If we assume the metaverse could mirror any or all aspects of our “regular-verse,” it is relevant to ask whether the metaverse might also apply to healthcare. According to a report from Accenture, more than eight in 10 healthcare executives expect the metaverse to have a positive impact on the healthcare industry, and the report even went on to describe the metaverse as “the next horizon” in healthcare and state that by 2030 the healthcare metaverse market could be worth $5.37 billion.

How exactly will the metaverse affect the healthcare industry?

Already, there are several ways in which the metaverse can be used within healthcare, including training, surgical procedures, patient experience and digital twins. Let’s take a look at two areas that could be the most widespread: training and digital twins.

Combined, the emergence and adoption of virtual reality (VR) in medical education, augmented reality (AR) in surgery and the wide adoption of cloud gaming technology could enable healthcare professionals and students to train wherever they are in the world. They could practice procedures together or with a virtual patient. Medical students in remote parts of the world could share the same virtual training facilities as students at the most prestigious medical schools and teaching hospitals. 

The benefits of training through the metaverse include simulations with a much higher resolution of the human anatomy, greater levels of complexity for procedures and opportunities for seamless collaboration between centers of excellence, bringing the possibility of developing new groundbreaking surgical procedures on photo realistic models of real patients.

Even the way we conduct research and test new devices at Emergo by UL could change. For example, one day the metaverse could connect us with hard-to-reach patient groups. It could allow us to see how a participant uses a device in a multitude of settings, environments and scenarios within a single test session.

This brings us to digital twins. Your digital twin is not simply your metaverse avatar, but an accurate digital representation of your health based on all the existing data and new data as it becomes available. In medicine, digital twins could present huge amounts of patient scan data (e.g., MRI, CT, ultrasound scans) taken over time and displayed into one view. Not only could this show an accurate digital version of a patient, but through the use of historical scans, this could show how the patient’s physiology has changed over time. In many cases, prototypes and replicas of the human body, hospital systems or entire hospitals are already in use. Babylon Health has already released a digital twin that uses data collected from wearables, in-app assessments and health records to help you understand your current health state and how it might change in the future.

In the future, a doctor may meet a patient for a routine check-up within the metaverse using a digital twin to demonstrate how a procedure will be carried out, or to visualize the impact their lifestyle choices could have on the health of their body.

What’s next, and when will I be able to visit a “metaverse hospital?”

While its widespread adoption and impact is anticipated, we’re still a while away from the metaverse’s all-pervasive, glittering virtual reality. There are still hurdles to be overcome to consolidate multiple technologies into one seamless world. While that happens, here are a few opportunities to start considering:

  1. Gimmick or meaningful experience? Consider how metaverse features could be implemented in a way that benefits the user and improves patient outcomes. Ask what you want to achieve from the metaverse and how it could be used to solve current problems.
  2. Consider how the metaverse will integrate with existing systems within healthcare and plan services so they complement one another and do not become a battle of competing worlds and systems users must now manage independently.