Healthcare in the metaverse?

Okay, the metaverse. I know we’ve all been bombarded with news about good ol’ Zuck’s latest Keynote and the impact it will have on our future use of social media — yet I hope you’re not too fed up with it since it’ll be the subject of this week’s blog post.

I ended up actually watching most of the Keynote and, to be fair, the metaverse sounds pretty cool if you don’t think about it too much. When you do put more thought into it, however, you likely end up agreeing with statements like ‘We know better than to allow Facebook to control the metaverse.’ That doesn’t mean that the metaverse is a strictly bad idea — after all, a digital platform that allows for more of the subtleties of real-world interaction could potentially avoid unnecessary conflicts, create new opportunities for connection, and make hanging out online more fun. We just have to be careful and critical with how it’s developed and used (easier said than done I realize).

Another thing the metaverse might provide is healthcare.

VR, AR, and MR

The main thing about the metaverse is that it’ll use Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality technologies to make our interactions more nuanced and connect us across platforms and interfaces. As Zuckerberg mentions in the Keynote, many people “would say [the metaverse] it is about gaming and that’s because gaming provides many of the most immerse experiences.” Indeed, many of us associated VR and AR with the gaming industry and, in the beginning, the metaverse might be mostly used for games. At least, Joanna Stern from the Wall Street Journal seemed to think they were the most integrated part of the metaverse at this point. (Highly recommend watching the WSJ video where she spends 24 hours in the metaverse).

VR, AR, and AI in the medical industry

However, VR, AR, and also AI are also used by the medical industry. Earlier this year, VentureBeat published a listacle about ‘21 ways medical digital twins will transform healthcare‘ in which they outline everything from virtual organs to software as a medical device, to personalized healthcare. Although one of the forerunners for the development virtual human modelling told VentureBeat that “This is a missing scientific foundation for digital health able to power technologies such as AI and VR and usher in a new era of innovation,” things like personalized health information using AI is already here.

Apps such as Babylon’s Healthcheck use AI to provide an “accessible and affordable health service” by working with the data that patients enter into the app about their health conditions, but also things like fitness data from other devices and mood tracking in the app itself.

Another company which aims to do something very similar is Treatment. While their app doesn’t launch until January 2022, the interesting difference here is that Treatment has announced their plans to create a “groundbreaking “Medical Metaverse.””

So, what exactly is a medical metaverse?

The medical metaverse

As Treatment uses the term, the medical metaverse will be the integration of their own AI technologies and Global Library of Medicine with AR and VR environments such as the metaverse. With this, they hope to create an immersive training environment for their own team but also improve medical education for students across the world. Ultimately, they believe that “this new medical metaverse will redefine global telehealth and healthcare in general.”

In the press release, the CEO and co-founder of Treatment also said that the team “share [Mark Zuckerberg’s] vision of immersive, open and creative on-line environments that will quickly attract patients, providers and developers, to deliver incredibly smart medical care to everyone.”

Many of us may already be using apps to contact our doctors for minor concerns, request prescriptions, and schedule appointments, but imagine if you didn’t even have to go to your GP for the consultation but instead could put on your snazzy VR glasses?

Instead of asking questions via an online chat or app, you could put your concerns to rest by talking to your GP in the metaverse and be given more precise advice based on digital twin information available to your doctor. Moreover, instead of a googling your symptoms (which will likely tell you you’re going to die), you could access AI-powered personalized health advice.

The companies working on these things promise that it will make healthcare more accessible and affordable which would be an amazing thing — especially for people living in places like the US where healthcare is insanely expensive if you don’t have a good insurance.

The flip side of the coin is that we have to consider how our health information is stored and how it’s treated. If Meta controls the metaverse then who will own the sensitive and very personal information we share about our health on the platforms? How will the different data laws between the US and Europe be applied? Zuckerberg emphasized Meta’s focus on privacy and responsibility — but do we really believe him?

Feature Image: Ivan Samkov/Pexels