Training utilizing XR with immersive learning, especially for surgical procedures, is fast tracking the development of medical competencies that improve outcomes and reduce risk.
Given the high-stakes, the need to “ learn by doing “, as well as the challenges and high costs of gaining knowledge and familiarity with the traditional approach of operating on actual bodies – learning in a digital environment is way more engaging and rewarding. And with no downside in the event of a procedure error with no patient dying because of an operating mistake, mis-diagnosis, or other unintended consequences – the benefits are significant with XR training.
Further, with XR medical training, there isn’t the historic need for healthcare personnel to spend considerable time becoming familiar with medical diagrams, procedures, dissecting cadavers, etc. And with this being expensive for the medical institution and grisly for many student practitioners, XR reduces the costs to develop medical proficiency and operate a healthcare organization, plus increases the appeal to people to enter the healthcare field.
Taking a cue from the aviation industry, medical institutions are moving towards simulation-based training, based on XR (Extended Reality) – including Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) – where users interact in real time within simulated scenarios with rich visuals, performing tasks, feedback, shared experiences, etc. To improve medical training with XR this means mapping the body in 3D with precise anatomical detail – which is much better than current 2D images – so surgeons are better able to hone their skills – before operating on a real patient.
For example, “ We have noticed that medical residents who want to specialize in interventional cardiology don’t have many opportunities to get hands-on experience. ” says Dr Ioannis Skalidis, of the department of cardiology at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland. “ In the metaverse, a lot of people at the same time can participate in operations and familiarize themselves with being the first operator.” In conjunction with this, he noted today’s medical students often begin their training feeling comfortable with VR applications because they’re familiar with video games and controlling an avatar.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred telehealth whereby in July 2020 95 % of US healthcare facilities reported offering remote treatment to patients – compared to just 43 % pre-pandemic. As a result, healthcare organizations are more receptive to innovation and exploring new ways and having more options to address the healthcare needs of their patients and providers.
The Healthcare Metaverse
With investment in metaverse ventures rising, GlobalData expects the XR market, worth $11 B in 2020 to be $204 B by 2030. Further, the metaverse as a whole is estimated to be worth $13 T by 2030, according to Citi Global Insights.
Within healthcare there are a growing number of XR applications including –
A. GameChange, a psychosis treatment involving a VR cognitive therapist, and VR headsets for people with paralysis or dementia.
B. DeHealth, a British startup, has created a Decentralized Metaverse based on AR and VR to enable doctors and patients to interact in 3D and earn virtual assets by selling their medical data.
C. The Dubai-based Thumbay Group plans to launch the world’s first metaverse hospital, which includes a virtual medical university and a virtual wellness domain. “ The metaverse hospital will be completely virtual, where people can come with an avatar and consult doctors.” says Dr. Guha. Further, Thumbay also envisions the metaverse hospital helping attract people serious about addressing their medical conditions and/or exploring options to better cope with their condition, medical practitioners wanting to further improve or expand their competencies quickly, increasing facility and region appeal to boost medical relevance and revenue, etc.
D. Aimedis Avalon, which bills itself as the biggest hospital and healthcare space in the metaverse where Doctors do consultations, examine patients, and monitor them remotely. In addition, there will also be opportunities for professional training and new ways of doing research. “ The hospital has different parts, including various consultation rooms for medical visits, a laboratory for virtual heart attack training, a virtual cardiac MRI room, and cardiac surgery theatre.” says Dr. Skalidis. “ Further, it’s already been used to perform a cardiology procedure in the metaverse.” As indicated in their paper, Skalidis and colleagues created a digital consultation room based on AR and VR, and gave the patient and doctor an Oculus Quest-2 VR headset. The patient also had a smartphone-based electrocardiograph device, which he used to record his clinical data. Using avatars, he presented this data to the consultant, who recommended he seek further medical attention. “ Up till now there have been many metaverse projects that are mostly theoretical. We’ve proven that it can be done with ECT images, blood pressure monitors, heart frequency monitors and oxygen saturation monitors – all directly integrated inside the metaverse.” Skalidis indicated.
For medical training with XR, examples of large healthcare companies collaborating with young technology companies include –
- Johnson & Johnson partnering with Osso VR – to distribute nearly 200 Oculus Quest headsets to surgeons across the US.
- Spineology (a spinal surgery device maker), partnering with Ghost Productions (a VR surgical simulation developer) to educate sales personnel on Spineology products with VR-based training to improve –
- engagement with medical providers
- outcomes for medical practitioners and patients
- Aris MD providing a 3D visualization of a patient anatomy – to better enable a surgeon to perform the procedure virtually.
- Echopixel creates a ‘ Digital Twin ’ of a patient using standard medical images – to enable Doctors have a more comprehensive view of patient internals with a 4D interactive hologram
From the above and many other examples of progress in healthcare with technology, the metaverse provides significant benefits to providers and patients.
With the growing and aging population, numerous people using various drugs, and diseases becoming more complex – it’s essential healthcare organizations and practitioners adopt new tools to respect the situation, rising expectations, to be better positioned to achieve the desired results from medical diagnosis / procedures / follow up, and to better manage risk.
This is even more important given the increasing complexity of healthcare and medical practices, XR solution costs are coming down, expanding XR product capabilities, the growing options to perform medical procedures, etc. For these and other reasons, medical training in the metaverse with XR solutions is only going to become more relevant going forward.