The doctor will see your avatar now
If you look at how children socialise online, it’s not always over a simple messaging app. It could be within their own virtual game, with their own avatar, dressed in clothes they’ve bought, and sometimes using their own voice.
Junior users of Roblox, for instance, have access to an avatar that can walk around a virtual universe and meet up with friends to chat to or play games. They also have access to their own coin purse full of tokens that can be spent on outfits and other experiences.
Roblox currently has 220 million active monthly users, which, if it was country, would make it about the sixth most populated in the world – so the idea of an online virtual world we could all experience via the metaverse is not extraordinary for the next generation.
This is why the chief medical metaverse officer of immersive platform Aimedis, Shafi Ahmed, supposes that it won’t just be office environments, retail shops or virtual concerts taking on the metaverse – you can also visit the doctor too.
“That generation will want different healthcare in about five years’ time,” Ahmed remarked at the Digital Healthcare show in London’s Excel last month, and this, he claimed, will carry on into adulthood.
“In the medical metaverse, you’ll find virtual doctor’s offices, virtual surgeries, virtual rehabilitation centres, and so much more,” he predicted.
“It’s a place where medical professionals can provide personalised treatment and patients can receive care in the virtual environment.”
The start of Web 3.0
To put it into perspective, Ahmed looks back to 1984, when Time magazine wrote a piece about the birth of the internet, five years before the birth of the World Wide Web. Fast forward to now, almost 30 years later, Time magazine is publishing articles on the next phase of the internet: Web 3.0.
“So perhaps there’s going to be a new version of a 3D internet?” Ahmed poised.
“We’ve come a long way in the evolution of the World Wide Web,” he pointed out, implying that Web 3.0 is now the new concept that will keep on developing.
For Ahmed, as a decentralised platform, Web 3.0 is “the building block of the metaverse” – one that offers a multitude of things.
“Firstly, it’s based on a blockchain which makes Web 3.0 tamper-proof, traceable, transparent, and trustful, which is extremely vital for a healthcare environment,” said Ahmed.
“Then, virtual reality headsets bridge the gap between the physical and the virtual, and digital twins create the world for patient and doctor avatars to step into.”
“All these ideas come together to create the metaverse,” he said.
As well as working on metaverse platform Aimedis, Ahmed is also a consultant surgeon at a renowned East London teaching hospital and he has said that he spends a lot of his medical working life working remotely.
He notes how technologies that already exist today could combine to provide a healthcare experience in the metaverse.
After all, remote healthcare services boomed during the pandemic, a necessity after Covid patients crowded already busy hospitals, and waiting rooms in GP surgeries remained locked down to reduce the spread of the virus.
As a result, many more patients took to online video appointments, and many are also wearing digital devices which allow doctors to remotely monitor them through virtual wards.
With the use of wearables that can monitor vitals such as heartbeat, temperature, and more, patients can attend virtual check ups, appointments and even receive therapy for pain control for long-term chronic diseases, Ahmed noted.
He added that we’re already at a point where pregnant patients can ask for VR therapy for pain during labour in California while in the UK he claimed that people were using the metaverse for long Covid therapy.
Ahmed and his team have taken video consultations onto the metaverse and had their first GP consultation six months ago.
In these appointments typically the patient took their avatar to the virtual ward, paid for the consultation via crypto to see the doctor, and spoke to a cardiologist for an opinion on their symptoms.
He suggested other use cases included rehabilitation for stroke patients – who could simply “pop” into the virtual world from their own homes to enter a virtual rehabilitation centre to help with recovery, with the benefit of not needing to take time and energy travelling to a hospital.
In sensitive cases, some people prefer to be anonymous in their consultations, or can at least feel more comfortable talking openly about a personal situation without having to sit face-to-face with someone they don’t know.
Additionally, trained nurses and doctors can also sit in on appointments as a third party and learn from real-life experiences without the need for a physical presence.
Over lockdown, Ahmed said that he created a lecture auditorium through the metaverse for students to attend.
Through the medical VR firm Medical Realities, the tech evangelist come medical consultant is currently training future surgeons and he’s witnessed first-hand how immersive technology has transformed teaching.
According to Ahmed, the advantage of remotely training in the metaverse is that it is much easier and can also be more immersive with the help of simulations.
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