Metaverse Benefits for Healthcare


Metaverse Benefits for Healthcare

More Or Less?

What pops up in your mind when you think about the Metaverse? Do you believe it to be a future "heaven on earth" with endless opportunities or a weird escape from dystopian reality? Both views are reasonable as most innovations we have introduced so far have good and bad effects on us. From the perspective of mental health risks, we might be playing with fire. But at the same time, many new benefits for healthcare are definitely to come. So, before we examine the pros and cons, let's shed some light on the talk. 

The "New Virtual World" Definition Check

Metaverse is supposed to be a common virtual 3D space where people can use digital embodied avatars to represent themselves and enjoy life-like experiences, like socializing, shopping, working, and many others. The idea is in its early development stage and still needs to take shape. The promise is to blur the line between real and virtual with the help of different devices. Extended reality technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and 5G give hope that the Metaverse will happen earlier or later. 

Since Facebook announced its rebranding to Meta, there has been much noise and debate around this topic. Though many remain skeptical about the prospects of implementation and call it a marketing gimmick, numerous Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and others are racing each other to make a bid at the innovation while the surf is up.  

Some Examples Of How Far We Are Now  

  • The gaming industry is the augmented reality pioneer. Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft are examples of the gaming environment connected with the real world. 
  • Decentraland is an Ethereum-based shared virtual world where users can own, buy and sell lands and property. 
  • Nike has recently launched "Nikeland" which allows the transition of real-life movements to the virtual world. 
  • The music industry has also been booming by performing virtual concerts with digital avatars.
  • Mcdonald's has filed 10 metaverse-related trademarks to propose home delivery and "a virtual restaurant featuring actual and virtual goods". 
  • Some companies are developing technologies to simulate taste, scent, and smell using lickable screens or electrodes in the nostrils.
  • On top of that, there is a startup working on the actual pain simulators.  

Though most developments are in the experimental stage, we may forecast they will finally break the frontier of web 3.0 and make us even more addicted to the dopamine economy. Gartner predicts that 25% of people will be involved in alternative virtual life for at least one hour a day by 2026. While the experience is simulated, the mental impacts of these interactions will be genuine. So let's discuss Meta's bright and dark sides relative to our well-being.         

Do We Need To Be Worried?

The main fear shaking the optimistic narrative is that Meta can get the existing problems with Internet usage out of hand. 

Do We Need To Be Worried?

More Hyper-Realistic Images 

Have you ever heard of "Snapchat Dysmorphia"? This term was suggested by surgeon Dr. Esho after many of his clients wanted to look just like a Snapchat-filtered version of themselves – more prominent eyes and lips, thinner faces, and so on. So there is a severe threat that new virtual space with even more features to alter our body representation will dramatically impact selfie dysmorphia, eating dysmorphia, and support unhealthy beauty standards. Conversely, some people may use realistic portrayals and feel dumped while constantly suffering from unfavorable comparisons with others. A 2021 study suggests that women who did not attend body positivity programs felt a drop in self-esteem after they saw their true-to-life avatars from a third-person point of view.

To keep us sane, we need to hit a sweet spot between giving space for impersonating "as we want to be seen" and staying realistic. "It's not a bug; it's a feature" philosophy applied to how we look is the best antidote we can take for now. The beauty standards often change, and our life is too short to dance to the tune of others. 

More Addiction

Have you ever thought of donating your mind to social science? Well, that is what most of us regularly do. Endless hours of not-so-social web habits lead to adverse health impacts like problems with sleep, alcohol, and anxiety disorders. The 2022 research by JMIR Public Health among US young adults 18-25 years old outlines that 53% of people met the criteria for PIU diagnosis, 24% of participants suffered from IGD (Internet Gaming Disorder), and 3,4% had signs of SMA (Social Media Addiction). Let alone the bad outcomes for our physical health if we give up outdoor activities and sports. 

It's easy to predict that augmented reality with a more robust capacity for engagement will make us even more hungry for new digital experiences. And it's still unclear how providers may contribute to advertising the "enough is enough" concept.  

More Bullying

It's naive to think that our darkest part will not find its place in the meta world. Cyberbullying and cyber assault have already been widespread on the Internet. A 2018 survey showed that harassment is common among VR systems. VR bullies are performing new ways of abuse: groping, breaking people's virtual body spaces', "swarming," transferring others out of an area, and so on. Providers are responding with new features such as "personal boundary", flagging, rating, personal space bubbles, and others. But the predator's identity is hidden by the anonymous nature of the Metaverse. So many new challenges arise. Though no physical harm is conducted, psychological trauma may still occur. Should there be a legal responsibility in the real world for virtual crime? Should it be spread to providers as well? What can be the danger scale if we simulate real sensations like pain in the future? Unless a clear set of laws is worked out for the meta space, bullying problems might be a severe obstacle to the growth of social VR platforms, and people may prefer solo experiences instead.

More Data Collection

In the famous 2018 Ted talk, Jaron Lanier described the negative side of the Internet with devices that collect our data and feed us more intrusive stimuli. We get constantly bombarded with ads and other content based on our behaviors gathered from social media activities. The risk with Meta is that the innovative techs like haptics, eye-trackers, and full-body suits allow more invasive data than we see today. It includes collecting heart and blood pressure, movements of your hands and eyes, breathing rate, talking, tone of voice, and the like. Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab states that for every twenty minutes, nearly 2 million data points are gathered by the VR system, which is much more than needed to identify someone's personality. So, the threat of digital manipulation will amplify, and we should insist on implementing top-down regulations regarding collecting and using this massive of information from day one. 

Is There a Silver Lining?

Nevertheless, it's not all doom and gloom. Let's look to the other side of the coin, as many far-reaching innovations for medicine and health care are on the testbed.

Is There a Silver Lining?

More Ways For Brands To Interact 

Big Pharma brands are already testing the waters of the meta by creating new engaging customer experiences. Highly-engaging content and new immersive tools open doors to a fun retail world and virtual events to explain complex topics. 

The pharmacy giant CVS made a trademark to open an online store in virtual settings. The purpose is to enrich services such as counseling, non-emergency medical treatment services, wellness, and healthcare programs. 

Different CBD companies have launched virtual dispensaries and telehealth capabilities for their clients. Customers can now learn all qualifying conditions and talk to the doctor via virtual cabinets. They can also buy cannabinoids, used for anxiety treatment and various other cases, during their walk through the entertaining space and have them delivered right to their doorstep. 

In 2021, Pfizer set an event to vaccinate Grand Theft Auto players in roleplay as a part of the educational campaign. 

There are already online stores and web events, you may say. Nevertheless, there is a need for human interactive contact, especially post-pandemic, in a way that is not covered by browsing the Internet. 

More Approaches to Phobias and Pain Treatment

Would you like to try to confront the situations avoided in life without fear of doing a runner? Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is examined as an effective way for PTSD, anxiety, pain treatment, and phobias such as claustrophobia, fear of driving, fear of height, fear of flying, and social anxiety. The therapeutic effect occurs when a person is plugged into a programmed environment that imitates unpleasant experiences. 

GameChange is one of the first startups to put a patient in a life-like simulation with a therapist to give some guide to rethinking the distorted attitude. In 2021 the FDA authorized the treatment of EaseVRx, another remarkable company, whose prescription-use VR system helps with lower-back pain, after 66% of the participants confirmed a great improvement.

To conclude, this area is one of the most up-and-coming to pair the Metaverse and healthcare. The only fear we will have left might be someone asking us to explain the joke we just laughed at but did not understand. 

More Spaces To Relax

For those having difficulties with meditation in real life, Meta can offer some alternatives. Many companies are working on creating calm virtual environments that are accurate in aiding anxiety management.  

The online gaming platform Roblex has recently cooperated with Alo Yoga to launch a virtual island where everything "lives, feels and breathes". One can try yoga, meditation, breathing, and other mindful practices. Besides, different exciting experiences like flying in an aura orb are available to make it more fun. 

Recent research on "Reulay Virtual Reality" reported a decrease in anxiety and emotional distress among people who participated in a 10-min nature-based reality program. If mindful practices can improve stress–response pathways and support the immune system, the new meditation-like VR experiences can encourage those unwilling or unable to meditate. 

More Effective Medical Training 

Would you trust a doctor who had low grades at school? Medical education and training are the fast-growing fields where AR is widely used. Current medical training is costly and lacks mobility. AR and VR allow physicians from different locations to practice collaboratively together and share their experiences with a more performance-enhancing effect. 

One of the startups providing immersive training content is Giblib. It features high-quality 4K and 360-degree VR videos of medical topics and surgical procedures conducted by the world's leading specialists. 

Students can also do surgical training in a simulated environment using digital twins, the virtual copies of our physical bodies, and thus gain the necessary skills like precision and decision-making. Besides, many other ways to use avatar-assisted treatment are constantly studied. Empa researchers developed several hundreds of digital twins to customize pain therapies and optimize the required dosage of pain-killer depending on the patient's reaction. 

Hopefully, with these improvements, the times when therapists explore million-dollar equipment on CD videos will become consigned to the past. 

More Accessible and Accurate Medical Help

McKinsey declares that the use of telehealth has grown by 38x compared to pre-pandemic. This tendency will most likely continue further. With a far more incredible feeling of being present, meta can help patients feel more relaxed and engaged with the process. Using higher-level data collection and analytics, doctors can make an accurate diagnosis and provide accessible care from the comfort of home. 

One of the notable companies that feature telemedicine online is XRHealth. It implements gamified virtual reality facilitated by licensed therapists. Another VR brand, ThirdEye, promotes that 40% of ambulance ER transports can be avoided and introduces a solution where first responders can live stream emergency cases to offsite doctors. With this tendency growing, high-quality medical assistance will become available from anywhere in the world. 

To Sum It Up

We do not know for sure whether this technology will gain overnight success one day or turn into a pumpkin. Let's welcome it anyway, and catch the wind of change in our sails while still being cautious about its implications. The best way to be prepared is to get friendly with real-life now so that in 2026 you can resist the temptation of virtual escape. Even if your life sometimes gets tough, remember unpleasant experiences are often needed to help us grow. Holding your friend's hand, chatting with your family, hugging your beloved pet, or playing volleyball on a sunny day with your bare feet on the beach will help you to preserve the tactile joy of being alive.

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