The metaverse could transform healthcare if industry leaders could find a way to wrap their minds around it.
When Brenda K. Weiderhold, PhD, MSc, MBA, In using virtual reality to treat patients, let’s just say the technology was cumbersome.
“We named it the Darth Vader headset because it has a huge front load,” says Wiederhold, a psychologist, entrepreneur, and pioneer in virtual reality medicine.
The headset, a massive black helmet that allowed the user to feel like they were in a different environment – sort of – was so big that it had to be attached to the ceiling with a bungee cord to help the user manage weight. “It was so miserable for people,” says Federhold. “But it was very immersive.”
That was 25 years ago. Since then, not only have giant helmets been replaced by lightweight headphones, the idea of virtual reality has expanded from a relatively simple audiovisual simulation to an emerging and immersive mixture of reality, reality and data known as the “metaverse”.
Now technology leaders like Wiederhold are thinking about ways the healthcare industry can take advantage of the metaverse to improve patient experience, healthcare operations, and, ultimately, patient outcomes.
If the metaverse is going to change healthcare, there is one early hurdle: answering the question, what is the metaverse?
It’s not one thing, says Kafe Safavi, managing director, JD, senior managing director at consultancy Accenture. One mistake people make is dismissing the metaverse as just a renaming of virtual reality. Facebook’s rebranding of its parent company Meta last year didn’t help clear things up.
Safavi says it’s helpful to think of the metaverse as a continuum. In a report published by Accenture earlier this year, Safavi and his colleagues identified some components in this continuum. One of the key aspects, he said, is Web3, which is the idea that in the near future the Internet will be one of the aspects where users control their own data and bring that data with them as they use other apps and services. Now everyone who offers an internet-based service keeps and controls the data. Safavi says that switching to user-controlled data is important because it will allow people to move from one app to another or through one app to another without having to re-register and send everything back to each app independently.
He says such a system would have a transformative impact on the healthcare industry where data privacy and user consent are critical issues.
The metaverse could also mean turning all that data into usable solutions and scientific breakthroughs with the help of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Where the technology goes beyond well-known iterations of virtual reality into something Safavi calls the “programmable world”. At this point in the future, metavirs is not just about getting real people into internet-based places. It’s about the connected world that makes its way into our real daily lives. This programmable world represents the confluence of two trends in information technology, Safavi said.
“One of them is that it’s much more peripheral, which means it’s there without you physically interacting with the keyboard or the screen,” he said. “The second is that it is actually an inseparable part of material things.” For example, he said, technology can be woven into fabrics so that they become wearable; Sensors can be built into walls to track a person’s health or note their fall. “Once we add all of the surrounding nature [of connected technology] Plus the fact that the physical elements themselves can change,” he said, “make a lot of different things possible. “
Understanding the role metaverse technologies can play in healthcare does not require one to look deeply into the future. Some early versions of metaverse healthcare have been around for a while.
As head of the Virtual Reality Medical Center in La Jolla, California, Wiederhold uses simulations to help patients with phobias, PTSD, and anxiety, among other conditions. It’s something she’s been doing for decades. The concept is that patients can use virtual worlds to experience synthetic versions of therapeutically stimulating experiences. A person who is afraid of heights can feel that they are in a high place without having to climb to a high place. Although virtual reality tools were primitive in the 1990s, they were much better than the alternatives.
Wiederhold recalls, “If you have someone just sitting around imagining something they are afraid of, your immediate response is to avoid, so don’t.”
What made Wiederhold’s treatment advanced is not only that she was using technology to harness patients’ imaginations; The technology was simultaneously used to measure patients’ physiological responses. Wiederhold says the idea came to her at a conference where a speaker was discussing surgical simulations. The speaker suggested that the combination of virtual reality and physiological measurements could significantly improve patient outcomes.
“If we put a patient into a scientist and we measured their physiology, and we could see what we were showing them, and we could measure their physiology and see how they interacted, we could customize the experience more appropriately for the patient,” Wiederhold says.
These days, such trials can be performed virtually through telemedicine. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wiederhold was shipping virtual reality headsets to patients and then using fitness trackers to monitor patients’ physiology during a video consultation. Wiederhold notes that all the devices she uses are widely available and relatively inexpensive.
Wiederhold, says recently, is using technology to help patients manage pain. She described a patient who lived in San Diego who had been unable to walk on the beach for five years due to chronic pain. She helped the patient learn to walk painlessly on a simulated beach, which in turn allowed the patient to develop positive cognitive associations that eventually helped him return to the real-life version.
“If I sat at home and focused on my pain, it would be even worse,” Wiederhold explains. “If you go out and do activities of daily living in a quick and measurable way, things get better with cognitive rehabilitation.”
Safavi finds such simulations useful in several ways. In addition to cognitive therapy, physical therapy and medical training, he says the metaverse could also be a way to transform informed consent by replacing written informed consent documents with immersive experiences that allow patients to see an operating room, perhaps see a transcript of their procedures and even ask questions about an intelligence-based avatar. artificial. “Our belief is that this person will have a different level of understanding of what is going to happen, and that the concept of informed consent will be more powerful,” he says.
Extensive use of data
However, one of the reasons Wiederhold has been at the forefront of the metaverse movement is that it takes advantage of the physiological data of its patients. Although consumer healthcare technology is becoming more and more popular, many clinicians and healthcare systems don’t actually see — let alone use — that data to guide treatment.
Safavi says an essential first step for health system leaders is to realize that the currency of the metaverse is data — not just health data, but all of the organizational data created and used by the health system. The problem, he says, is that the current IT infrastructure in most health systems is – you might have guessed – isolated. To make the metaverse process successful, systems need to find ways to release their data and then make full use of it. “If I say ‘data,’ they say, ‘I have an electronic medical record (EMR),'” he notes. “Well, that’s patient medical record data. What we’re talking about here is the information that comes from everything.”
Jared KaltwasserAnd the A writer in Iowa, he is a regular contributor to Managed Healthcare Manager®.
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