How the Metaverse and AI Will Transform Healthcare
Authors: Amina H Khalpey, PhD, Jessa Deckwa, BS, Antoni Macko, DO, & Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, FACS
The emergence of the metaverse and artificial intelligence (AI) presents transformative opportunities for healthcare. The metaverse, a virtual shared space that allows users to interact with each other and digital objects in a seamless manner, provides a novel avenue for healthcare delivery (1). AI, on the other hand, enables the analysis of vast amounts of data to support diagnosis, treatment, and drug discovery. Combining these technologies will enhance patient care and promote access to healthcare services. This essay discusses the potential impacts of the metaverse and AI on healthcare and their implications for the future.
1. The Metaverse
The Metaverse is a virtual shared space that everyone can access. It’s a catch-all term that refers to the entire digital and virtual world (1). It uses computer vision techniques such as object recognition, plane detection, facial recognition, and movement tracking to recognize real-world surfaces and objects. The term “mixed reality” refers to a combination of augmented and virtual reality (1). The goal of the Internet of Things or IoT is to make the electronic world draw a map of the real one, giving an electronic identity to things and places in the physical environment (3). Among the fields of application of the metaverse, medicine is a field of great relevance, and the term medical IoT (MIoT) represents the artificial model applied to medicine, which is facilitated by particular equipment such as AR and VR glasses (3).
Figure 1: IoT and Internet for Metaverse
2. The Metaverse and Healthcare
The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery by enhancing access to healthcare services, reducing costs, and increasing patient engagement (2). Patients in remote areas will be able to interact with healthcare professionals and access healthcare services through virtual means (3). This can lead to better health outcomes, as patients can access healthcare services earlier, reducing the risk of complications from untreated conditions. The metaverse can also support preventive care through immersive and engaging educational programs. For example, users can interact with virtual environments that simulate risky scenarios and receive feedback on how to prevent accidents (3).
A case in point is the Asthma Prevention Application (AHA), developed in the USA, which was designed to conduct healthcare research on a large scale and provide real-time monitoring of air pollution. Based on the analysis of patients’ electronic asthma diary data, combined with atmospheric data, this application can predict acute asthma attacks, contributing to primary and secondary prevention of the disease (6).
3. The Metaverse and Medical Training
In regard to Medical Training, students can be trained to quickly learn various therapeutic techniques as if they were present in clinical practice, such as magnetic navigation, or even procedures such as endoscopy or intubation. Naturally, as already highlighted, the training of young surgeons is facilitated with the possibility to perform simulated operations on virtual patients and to guide the movements of a student even remotely (3).
The metaverse can also provide a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing among healthcare professionals. Healthcare providers can collaborate on patient care, share expertise, and access training opportunities (2). This will help improve the quality of care and reduce medical errors.
In Lisbon, at the Breast Unit of the Champalimaud Foundation, the Portuguese surgeon Dr Pedro Gouveia and his Spanish colleague Dr Rogelio Andrés-Luna, thanks to the metaverse, performed an operation simulating of being in the same operating room, despite of being 900 km away. Dr Gouveia wore special AR glasses, namely Hololens (8). Not only could he see the patient in front of him, but he also had the patient’s diagnostic images and clinical information projected onto the appropriate lenses. In this context, 5G technology proved to be essential, capable of overcoming the limits (such as latency time) of 4G technology (3).
4. Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare
AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by enabling the analysis of vast amounts of data to support diagnosis, treatment, and drug discovery (4). AI algorithms can rapidly analyze medical images, identify patterns and subtle anomalies, and provide diagnostic suggestions. This can lead to earlier diagnosis and more accurate treatment. AI can also assist in drug discovery by analyzing vast amounts of data and predicting the efficacy of potential drug candidates. This can accelerate drug development and reduce the costs associated with clinical trials.
Additionally, AI can improve patient outcomes by facilitating personalized medicine. By analyzing patient data, AI can identify the most effective treatment for an individual patient, taking into account their medical history, genetic makeup, and lifestyle. This can lead to better health outcomes and reduce the risk of adverse reactions.
Another example of the MIoT application is provided by the Japanese Toshiba, which has developed an artificial intelligence device made up of wrist sensors and a palmtop, able to analyze and monitor the user’s health, activities, and personal habits on a daily basis, providing reminders and advice for an appropriate healthy diet and regular exercise, tailored to the specific individual. Based on the characteristics of the arterial pulse, movement, heart rate, and electro-dermal activity, artificial intelligence was found to play a key role in making behavioral changes and in reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases. The software achieved 90% accuracy in detecting user activities such as eating and exercising (7).
5. Combining the Metaverse and Artificial Intelligence
When combined, the metaverse and AI can synergistically enhance the benefits of each technology and provide novel healthcare solutions. For example, the metaverse can provide a platform for virtual health assistants that use AI to provide personalized healthcare services (4). These assistants can interact with patients in a natural and engaging manner and provide medical advice, track vital signs, and schedule appointments.
The metaverse can also support AI-powered medical simulations that enable medical professionals to practice complex procedures in a virtual environment. This can help reduce the risks associated with medical errors and improve patient outcomes.
The metaverse and AI present transformative opportunities for healthcare. The metaverse can provide a platform for virtual healthcare delivery, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. AI can enable the analysis of vast amounts of data to support diagnosis, treatment, and drug discovery. Combining these technologies can lead to personalized medicine, improved patient outcomes, and reduced costs. The potential impacts of the metaverse and AI on healthcare are significant, and their implications for the future are exciting.
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