For many years, healthcare delivery entailed the physical interaction between a patient and physician as a means to receive a diagnosis, medical treatment, or operative care. This changed slightly with the advent of telehealth, which delivered the patient-physician relationship through digital means and the internet.
But these paradigms are now at the cusp of an even larger, more monumental form of unprecedented disruption, as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) are quickly bringing forth possibilities that were never previously imagined.
The innovation in this realm continues to grow rapidly. Take for example famous computer systems and chip designer NVIDIA, which has been an industry favorite for decades. The company has continued to demonstrate incredible innovation in all aspects— from gaming systems to advanced computing, NVIDIA is a visionary force. Now, the company is utilizing its trusted and tried infrastructure to invest in the “metaverse”—an alternate, digital reality of sorts that can provide rich, life-like interactions and experiences to users. This is a promising concept for healthcare, which thrives on interaction between the physician and the patient. NVIDIA is attempting to innovate in this space with its Omniverse platform— “an easily extensible, open platform built for virtual collaboration and real-time physically accurate simulation. Creators, designers, researchers, and engineers can connect major design tools, assets, and projects to collaborate and iterate in a shared virtual space.” The platform has already been adapted across multiple industries, including architecture and engineering, media and entertainment, manufacturing, and supercomputing, creating a strong foundation to leap into the healthcare industry.
The idea of the metaverse has incredible potential, providing for an entirely new approach to interaction and human connection. Facebook’s recent transformation to “Meta” is an ode to the company’s foresight and vision that the metaverse is the next frontier in technological innovation. In fact, Facebook has been investing in virtual and augmented reality for years, slowly deciphering new ways to connect people and build interactive platforms. Even prior to redefining itself as Meta, the company indicated its commitment to this technology through its monumental acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus. Facebook/Meta has incredible potential to redefine healthcare, especially as it already has such a robust and proven social media infrastructure.
Meta is moving fast with its AR/VR technology. Its latest video shows the company’s incredible progress with haptic glove technology, allowing the user to experience the sense of touch in the virtual world. The demonstration shows users interacting in the virtual space and even playing precision and dexterity heavy games such as jenga. The full video can be seen here, and a preview below:
Overall, these examples are only a few of the many working to revolutionize this space. Companies like Intuitive Surgical, which is famous for its robotic-assisted surgery system (the Da Vinci system) have incredible potential to move into virtual reality. Numerous other smaller companies are investing in niche pockets in the digital healthcare realm—whether it be to augment the telemedicine experience through AR/VR, or make other medical experiences more patient friendly and safe.
But there are key challenges that these companies will undoubtedly encounter. One major challenge will be to bridge the virtual world with the real. Numerous clinical trials and use-cases will have to be delved into to truly understand if and how this technology can be used safely for patient care. Another area of concern is the safety of patient data and information in the metaverse. As society becomes increasingly reliant on technology, there must be an emphasis on the concomitant numerous vulnerabilities and cybersecurity concerns. Finally, companies will have to address how this technology will be created in a way that is not only safe for the patient, but also caters to the humanistic aspects of medicine. After all, healthcare is not just about treating the symptoms—but additionally, is also about treating the person. While AR and VR technology hold incredible promise for healthcare, it must also be developed in a way that does not encroach upon or mitigate the sensitive, humanistic, and sacred patient-physician relationship that has long-defined healthcare.