March 22, 2022

What Is the Metaverse and How Will it Impact Enterprise Healthcare?

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You’ve probably heard a lot about the metaverse lately, but like most people, you may only have a vague idea of what it actually is.

The term “metaverse” has circulated for decades, along with all of the technological concepts behind it like the internet, 3D computing, and virtual reality. We’ve seen spikes in interest thanks to science fiction novels, movies, and video games. More recently, Facebook’s rebranding to Meta has put it top of mind for many, with Mark Zuckerberg diving into great detail about his vision of “the metaverse.”

But what is the metaverse really, and how will its advancement actually be useful — especially to those of us who work in healthcare?

What is the Metaverse?

You may not realize it, but you’re using the metaverse right now. In its most basic form, the metaverse is just a set of digital tools and environments that humans interact with. You can think of it as a stack of three layers built on top of each other, with each layer becoming progressively more interactive.

The first layer of the metaverse is the internet, as it exists today. The internet is a diverse concept that connects people and allows us to do things by mimicking our interaction with the physical world. Instead of physically going to a brick-and-mortar store, we can use an internet browser or app to visit an e-commerce website, look for products or services, and purchase them using a digital shopping cart. When we browse the internet, we’re mainly interacting with 2D digital representations of concepts from the physical world. The internet is the foundational layer of the metaverse.

The second layer of the metaverse builds on top of the first. Over the last forty years, we’ve been creating 3D digital environments that people can connect to using the internet instead of just experiencing and interacting with 2D spaces like we do today with websites. Massively multiplayer online experiences, like Second Life, allow users to create 3D avatars, which are digital representations of themselves. Users control these avatars, and through them, they can interact with each other and the 3D environment. Circling back to the example of e-commerce, a user could direct their avatar to walk into the 3D model of a store, pick up the 3D model of a product, walk up to the cashier’s avatar, ask them how their day is going, and purchase the product with their credit card. This product might only exist in the digital world, or it could be a real product that would then ship out to the user’s physical home. The depth, details, and rules of these online 3D digital environments are often only bound by the imagination of their creators. But our experiences in these environments have been limited because we’ve only been able to interact with them through a 2D window; the computer screen.

The third layer of the metaverse changes this by leveraging the power of immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). When you hear people discussing the metaverse today, this is the layer they’re talking about. Immersive technologies allow us to feel present in digital worlds, interacting with them in ways that mimic the way we interact with the real world. Instead of interacting with a 3D environment through an avatar on a 2D screen, you become the avatar and experience the digital environment using your own senses. You can see, hear, touch, smell, and yes, even taste things while immersed in virtual environments. Users can interact, socialize, work, and play in virtual worlds that are always available whenever they choose to jump in. It truly is a paradigm shift in how we can interact with digital environments, and because of this, the third layer of the metaverse has an enormous part to play in the future of healthcare.

What the Metaverse Means for Healthcare

It’s no surprise that this third, immersive layer of the metaverse is starting to transform nearly every industry. From manufacturing to retail, immersive technologies are being applied in ways we’ve never previously imagined. Healthcare is a prime example.

Immersive technology is already being used to enhance medical education, hands-on training, and even clinical care. Virtual anatomy and autopsy apps are widely being used to teach at the post secondary level, virtual surgical simulators are training future generations of doctors and the FDA has even approved virtual reality therapeutics for clinical care. In addition to these areas, there are significant opportunities to leverage interaction and collaboration within the immersive metaverse to transform healthcare delivery.

Historically, healthcare delivery has required the physical interaction between a patient and physician to receive a diagnosis, medical treatment, or operative care. This has changed recently with the accelerated adoption of telehealth services during the pandemic. Although some primary care can now be delivered digitally, allowing patients better access to their physicians, healthcare delivery can evolve further within the metaverse.

In the not-so-distant future, healthcare practitioners will be able to connect, collaborate, and work with each other and their patients in shared virtual environments from anywhere in the world. For example, a physician could diagnose a patient with a possible neurodegenerative disease without having to meet them in person. Collaborative care teams from different parts of a large hospital system could meet, review complex patient data, and create a care plan without having to physically travel. Medical information itself could be better presented within the context of care and become more accessible, which in turn could empower patients and democratize healthcare.

Connecting all of these new virtual experiences together is our next challenge, but we have a great foundation with internet 2.0. If we can figure out that next step, then the metaverse will allow us to further break down walls and silos in healthcare, making resources, expertise, and patient care more accessible. This transformation is already happening.

SieVRt virtual reality radiology workflow platform

How SieVRt Is Transforming Medical Imaging in the Metaverse

At Luxsonic, we’re incredibly excited about the limitless possibilities of healthcare delivery in the metaverse. Developing immersive healthcare products is our focus, passion, and expertise. We believe that a deep understanding of clinical workflows is critical to building products that solve real problems in healthcare. That’s why we’ve built SieVRt; an end-to-end workflow platform for medical imaging within the metaverse.

Medical imaging is a critical part of modern healthcare and is used to diagnose and monitor thousands of conditions, diseases, and traumas. A radiologist has to review each of those images, so they are an integral part of patient care teams, even though they rarely interact with patients themselves. Radiologists review your ultrasounds and x-rays in what we call a radiology “reading room.” Reading rooms are complex, expensive to set up and maintain, and are fixed in place, taking up valuable square footage in a clinical setting.

Radiologists spend 80–90% of their workday in the reading room and can’t work outside of it. That means, traditionally, it’s been very difficult for them to work remotely in areas without physical radiology infrastructure or to access their workflow outside of the hospital setting.

We’ve created SieVRt to allow radiologists to take their reading room with them wherever they go in the physical world, by giving them a digital twin of their reading room in the metaverse. With a SieVRt enabled portable VR headset, a radiologist can do everything they would normally do in a physical reading room, from teaching residents to collaborating with colleagues to reviewing patient data. By eliminating the need for radiologists to work in a fixed physical space, we’ve truly unlocked remote teleradiology services, and this can have a dramatic impact on patient care.

In one of our early case studies, we showed the impact of using SieVRt for collaborative teleradiology. During a simulated medical emergency at an underwater research facility, Dr. Shawna Pandya used SieVRt for an emergency consult with a radiologist who was over 4000 km away. The two physicians were able to connect securely in SieVRt’s shared virtual reading room, view imaging data together in real-time, and discuss the case as if they were in the same physical room together. The simulated patient was accurately diagnosed, and the mission doctor was able to administer the proper treatment.

Imagine being able to connect urban radiologists to rural healthcare practitioners so that they could provide instant advice or guidance as if they were working side by side. Now expand this idea to include any area where medical images are used — from dentistry to oncology — and you can begin to see how powerful of a tool the metaverse can be for healthcare.

What kind of an effect would this type of improved collaboration and interaction at a distance have on democratising access to care? That’s exactly what we’re going to discover!

The metaverse is much more than a new attempt at a social network. It’s a new frontier for humans to interact with each other and the digital world. We’re already exploring this new frontier in the context of healthcare, and we have a real opportunity to positively impact millions of people around the world by embracing the metaverse.

If you’d like to learn more about the virtual reality software we’ve developed or what we have planned for the future of SieVRt, send us a message at info@luxsonic.ca or visit us https://luxsonic.ca/.

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