The Metaverse Will Save Lives: Healthcare Innovation in 2022 and Beyond

WebMD’s Chief Medical Officer John Whyte shares insights on how the metaverse will impact the future of healthcare.

WebMD's Chief Medical Officer John Whyte shares insights on how the metaverse will impact the future of healthcare.

When it comes to innovations in healthcare, we tend to focus on the use of wearables, trackers and sensors that provide personalized data such as number of steps taken, calories burned, sleep quality, and heart rate. Nearly half of Americans currently wear this type of smart jewelry (e.g. watch, ring, wrist band). Don’t worry though if you haven’t adopted the use of one because the next innovation in wearables won’t even be something we wear – we will be talking “near-ables.” These are devices that we don’t need to wear but rather ones that can be near us – such as a light bulb – that can record our vital signs each time we are in its range. Pretty cool!

But when it comes to healthcare, the real innovation, however, may be in the role of the metaverse. By metaverse, I don’t mean the company “Meta” – instead I’m referring to the space where we use technologies to bridge the physical and digital worlds. Two of the most talked about tools are Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). It’s these technologies that could completely reshape how we think about and deliver health care.

VR creates a 3-D fictional world, often requiring a headset, that allows one to immerse oneself in a virtual environment. Already, we have seen a role for this tool in the area of pain control. In fact, two years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted breakthrough-device designation to a VR system designed to treat low back pain as well as fibromyalgia.

AR merges virtual images with the real world. This tool allows your doctor and other health professionals to visualize things in front of them using augmented reality that they otherwise couldn’t – such as arteries through different parts of the body, or the exact size and shape of a diseased liver, or the location of broken bones as well as lab results and other parts of the health record – without taking their attention away from you to look at some other screen. Imagine how this helps at the point of care such as during a surgery! It also will play a critical role in medical education. At a time when there are shortages of cadavers, AR will allow surgeons to learn the necessary skills and decision-making that will improve health outcomes.  It will provide a whole new level of sophisticated simulation! I believe it will also play an important role in improving care of patients with cancer – all the information in one place for multiple providers to collaborate, in real-time, on a comprehensive treatment plan.

The key, with any new technology, is to make sure that everyone has access to it. With both public and private funding, the metaverse can dramatically improve health care for people around the world.

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