Are We Providing Therapy to Virtual Avatars?
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced MetaHealth, the world’s first Healthcare Metaverse platform, expected to be launched by mid-2022. Other than virtual concerts of acclaimed pop stars, live streaming shopping, video gaming, and the first marriage in the Metaverse, the development of MetaHealth by the UAE confirms the potential of this virtual world beyond our known boundaries.
The Metaverse is essentially a digital space where people can experience virtual lives and engage in digital transactions, enabled by hardware that serves as the bridge between the physical and virtual worlds. Truth be told, it is a concept that we are all familiar with, but no one can explain or define precisely. The reason behind this is that the concept is constantly changing and suffering from the evolving market demand. This transformational process is being shaped by the users and the companies, where the latter are pushing their products or services to serve this market.
The Entertainment and Retail industries are leading the metaverse race with (aggressive) innovation agendas oriented to the creation of new customer experiences, and new marketing & sales channels. However, many industries can unlock growth opportunities in the Metaverse, as is the case in the Healthtech industry.
The Healthtech industry seems to be very conservative, nonetheless, it is one of the most innovative industries. As represented in figure 1, the Medical Technology (MedTech) field led the European patent applications of 2021 neck and neck with the Digital Communications field (Source: European Patent Office, 2021).
Here’s a glimpse of how the metaverse is being approached by the health sector to improve collaboration, training, patient data visualization, and therapies, just to name a few examples.
Extended Reality (XR) for Medical Applications
The diverse technologies that compose XR, like Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR), bring new opportunities for surgical-related applications. VR can be used for surgery planning or for medical training. On the other hand, AR can be leveraged to support medical professionals during surgery by overlaying surgery-relevant information or guided steps.
Honorable mention: Osso VR develops training and pre-op assessment solutions through their VR platform. By providing guided learning content supported by VR, they improve the performance of medical professionals, democratizing access to training, improving patient outcomes, bringing analytics to the table, and reducing the barrier of medical technology adoption. The San Francisco-based company raised 66 million USD in the first quarter of 2022, summing to a total funding amount of over 109 million USD to develop their medical training solution.
Digital Therapeutics (DTx)
The Metaverse provides a safe space for its users, empowering patients to take advantage of this aspect to undergo therapy for different medical conditions. Mental disorders, chronic diseases, and ophthalmological diseases, just to name a few, are among the most common medical conditions that can use the Metaverse for DTx treatments. Additionally, patients can inform themselves through digital information platforms, and connect with other patients with similar conditions.
Honorable mention: Xploro enables children to find health information through a fun and engaging AR platform. To reduce fear and anxiety, the children can access relevant information on their health condition or upcoming procedures through gameplays, avatar chatbots, and customizable content monitored by a clinician. Xploro is a real champion, increasing patient satisfaction and health literacy for children with cancer.
The remote aspect of the Metaverse brings several advantages. Doctors can provide care remotely, thus, making it more accessible to many users without the need for them to be present in front of a medical professional. By doing this, institutions can ensure equitable public well-being for remote communities or for patients with mobility limitations.
Honorable mention: XRHealth developed a platform for patients to receive care by clinicians remotely. The user can get in contact with the medical professional through the platform, which then will recommend therapies in the area of occupational medicine, physical therapy, or therapies for mental health. With the power of Virtual Reality, the patients get personalized attention from the clinicians without leaving their homes.
Digital copies of anatomical models provide new opportunities for studies and simulations to be more realistic. Different use cases arise from the creation of digital twins, where drug research is one of the big beneficiaries. Furthermore, Digital Twins can be used to provide dynamic health records of the patient. Since Digital Twins can be created on a personal (human) level, one interesting use case of these solutions is for clinical trials or research, however, a few companies are attempting to develop a digital twin of persons’ consciousness.
Honorable mention: Unlearn created an AI-based platform that accelerates clinical trials. The system can create a digital twin of a patient after their first visit, thus, ensuring that the drug development process runs faster. The platform can predict the patient’s behavior with the digital twin, which is generated with baseline data. The San Francisco-based company secured 50 million USD in the second quarter of 2022, summing to a total of 69.9 million USD to streamline clinical trials through AI and digital twins.
Why should I care about these applications?
Digitalization is at the core of the different use cases for the Metaverse, and with it, a more user-centric approach. Patients and doctors will benefit from these solutions, reducing the barrier to more de-centralized, democratized, and equitable healthcare. On the other hand, the healthcare system will significantly reduce costs and improve patient wellbeing. Last but not least, other stakeholders like MedTech or Pharmaceutical companies can benefit from the Metaverse, streamlining a number of processes that typically consume a vast amount of resources.
As summarized in this article, the Metaverse is transforming the way in which the Healthtech industry tackles everyday problems. Ever since Facebook was renamed Meta, the hype for the Metaverse has been stronger than ever. New and fascinating technologies are appearing that can shape the future of how Healthcare is provided, and who knows, in the near future we might need to provide therapy to our virtual avatars as well.
If you want to know more about the diverse use cases and Healthcare companies in the Metaverse, do not hesitate to reach out to us.