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7th April 2023

Healing the metaverse: Transforming healthcare for a virtual future

The metaverse is one of the most innovative technologies to arise with Web 3.0. It holds significant potential for connecting people worldwide in a shared, virtual space. Healthcare, one of the world’s most important sectors, has the potential to benefit from several use cases in the metaverse.

However, it is one of the most challenging sectors to innovate in, so it is essential first to understand what it takes to invest in the healthcare metaverse as healthcare and digital entrepreneurs. In a 20-minute address titled ‘Healing the Metaverse: Transforming Healthcare for a Virtual Future,’ Philippe Gerwill, a Member of the Advisory Board at DeHealth and Med-Tech World, highlighted key areas to consider as healthcare and the metaverse begin to merge in a post-web 2.0 world.

What is the Metaverse?

Key to the Metaverse
In the healthcare metaverse, there’s a focus on eliminating barriers such as physical or geographical ones, as not everyone has access to healthcare.

Although we recently have begun talking of the metaverse and relating it to different places and industries, the metaverse concept is not entirely new. Five years ago, we had movies like Ready Player One; in 2009, we had Avatar; and in 1999, we had Matrix. All these movies explored the metaverse, but they often had catastrophic stories. One of the key persons in the first Avatar is a guy in a wheelchair. By going into the world of the avatars, he’s not in a wheelchair. The gaming industry, several times, also shows examples of this.

Should the metaverse for healthcare go in a different direction?

Most people believe that the healthcare metaverse should go in a different direction. First, it’s giving access to care; we still have so many people worldwide that don’t have access to care for many reasons. We have a shortage of healthcare providers, but we also have people visiting them when they should not. So, reducing the number of people going to healthcare providers when they don’t need to will help free up some of this limited capacity for others.

Medical education is another huge topic. When will doctors have the time to learn about new developments and technologies with full waiting rooms? And while doctors don’t have the time to catch up, these technologies are developing quicker and quicker. Recently, Professor Shafi Ahmed, held a training session where he reached 55,000 thousand students in 140 countries. Just imagine the number of hours that would have taken for a traditional classroom format.

The healthcare metaverse has the potential to remove barriers.

The healthcare metaverse is also about removing barriers – physical barriers, geographical barriers, et cetera, because not everybody has access. In many countries, they are even closing hospitals, and we have fewer and fewer doctors. Also, the metaverse is removing a psychological barrier – because people often don’t like to go to the hospital. So, suppose we can reduce the need for people to go to the hospital when it’s not needed. In that case, we’re helping them be more comfortable getting treatment and sharing their issues.

Again, the healthcare metaverse can move the point of care. Preoperative visits, for example, could be done in the metaverse. In addition, the psychological component is crucial. In the metaverse, you can visit the hospital, move around, talk to people, and when you go to the hospital in person, you’ll already feel like you’re in a familiar environment. The same works for post-op follow-ups, which are very difficult if the patients live very far from the hospital.

What are the Key Challenges?

For one, there are challenges for healthcare providers and patients. In some countries, there is a huge generational gap. In countries like France, Germany, and Switzerland, we have many doctors that will be retired in the next few years, and there’s a gap between those doctors and the next ones. Medical schools have changed a lot to try to fill that gap. Still, the medical school takes quite a long time to complete – with each class spending an average of seven to eight years in medical school.

We could also look at the misconceptions about new technologies such as AI. It’s better to not just look at AI as Artificial Intelligence but also as Augmented Intelligence. It’s taking all the possible burden to help release a little more time for the doctor.

Global adoption is a crucial concern.

Adoption and adaptivity is also critical conversation. At this time, we talk about internet technology. However, in the world, internet penetration is about 67%. When you look at specific countries or continents, it’s even lower. In Africa, it’s less than 50%. There’s still a lot of difference in access to the internet, and we should work to reduce that gap to get this infrastructure to these countries.

Integration of devices is in its infancy.

There’s also the issue of technology. There are so many different devices in hospitals; often, these devices are not built to integrate or ‘talk’ to each other. In addition, we need more scalability in the sector.

Data privacy and regulation must be considered.

Data privacy is also a crucial topic that should not be overlooked. Firstly, those discussing those restrictions [on data sharing] are not patients. Because patients are open to sharing their data if it allows them to get better treatment and get cured. So, most people fighting to prevent data sharing are not patients. We are not good at punishing those who misuse data, and the solution we end up turning to is asking everyone not to share their data.

We also must recognize the importance of regulation. As the sector develops, we cannot ignore the possibility of fraud, fakes, and all that, so there need to be barriers to deter all that from happening. Importantly, rather than see the metaverse as an escape from real life, we should think about leveraging the metaverse to get a better real life.

Join the Med-Tech buzz in Malta!

Don’t miss the exciting opportunity to be part of the Med-Tech World Summit in Malta on October 19-20, where we’ll be gathering the brightest minds in healthcare and technology to shape the future of medicine. Join us later this year for this event.