Physicians Needed in The Healthcare Metaverse
Authors: Amina Khalpey, PhD, Parker Wilson, DO, Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, FACS
The metaverse is a virtual reality (VR) space where people can virtually interact with each other in a three-dimensional environment. This space could bring people from across the world together on the same platform and environment, though physical distance may be a barrier to in-person contact. This was a phenomenal advancement in technology seen in the last 5 years and it has taken media by storm, from movies to video games to social media. Healthcare may be a new horizon where VR and the metaverse could be useful in changing how we interact with each other globally. The healthcare metaverse is a virtual space where doctors, nurses, patients, and other healthcare providers can interact. This technology has the potential to transform the healthcare industry by providing better and more efficient healthcare services to far reaches of the globe.
The healthcare sector has been facing numerous challenges, including a shortage of healthcare workers, a rising demand for healthcare services, and rising healthcare costs. An issue that plagues healthcare in many countries, especially those with poor or minimal infrastructure, is access to care. It is often difficult to patients in rural communities to consistently reach their physicians and receive the care that they may desperately need without sacrificing time from family and their job.1,2
As we in the United States have realized, many follow-up visits can be done virtually, via telecommunication or otherwise. There was a report in 1992 that telecommunication could reduce health care spending by $36-40 billion dollars.3 Adjusted to inflation, this number is no doubt much larger now. The advent and adoption of telecommunication in healthcare has dramatically increased recidivism to follow-up appointments for surgical patients. Shao et al reported that telemedicine decreased chance of no-show follow-up visits by two-thirds.4
The metaverse may continue this positive change dramatically. The three-dimensional environment along with the convenience of telemedicine could create a whole new realm for clinic and hospital visits. With improved technology like augmented-reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, patients and their perspective could be shown in extreme detail. These technologies could allow patient encounters to be done completely online and remotely with remarkable applicability. For example, a sick visit could be done completely virtually with accurate physical exam findings because the image of the patient is clear, detailed enough to diagnose the illness.
The healthcare metaverse could, in theory, be created to simulate an entire hospital encounter and triage for the potential of admission without having the patient leave their home, in the case that they need not call an ambulance and come to the hospital. Even surgeries could be done remotely. Recently, a Chinese news outlet reported that a cholecystectomy was done remotely over 5G service from over 200 kilometers away from the patient. These are the advances that the metaverse could bring to healthcare.
Physicians, AI and the Metaverse:
Artificial intelligence (AI) will be integral to the healthcare metaverse. Physicians are crucial in creating the AI tools for use in the healthcare metaverse. Physicians have the expertise and knowledge needed to develop AI that can provide better healthcare services. Physicians can work with software developers to create AI that is tailored to the needs of the healthcare sector.
Physicians can also help ensure that AI is developed ethically and is used to benefit patients. AI can be used to improve healthcare outcomes, but it can also be used to discriminate against certain groups of people. Physicians can help ensure that AI is developed and used in an ethical manner.
Physicians can also help ensure that AI is integrated into the healthcare system effectively. Healthcare systems are complex, and AI must be integrated into the system in a way that does not disrupt patient care. Physicians can work with healthcare administrators to ensure that AI is integrated into the system effectively.
Physicians can also help ensure that patients are comfortable with the use of AI in healthcare. Patients may be wary of AI, and physicians can help alleviate their concerns by explaining the benefits of AI in healthcare and how it can improve patient outcomes. Physicians can also work with patients to develop AI that is tailored to their specific needs and preferences.
In short, physicians need to be trained in artificial intelligence. We need to know how it is developed and how it works so that when it comes time to develop a sophisticated healthcare metaverse, we will be able to join in its creation rather than have it be done by those who have never been involved in patient care.
Advantages of the Healthcare Metaverse:
There are many foreseeable advantages to the healthcare metaverse. These are seen in the weaknesses of our current healthcare system. Often hospitals are understaffed, inefficient and contribute to disparities between communities.
The healthcare metaverse could address the shortage of healthcare workers by providing virtual healthcare services. Virtual healthcare services can be provided by AI-powered chatbots that can answer patient questions and provide medical advice. This technology can help patients access healthcare services more easily and reduce the workload of healthcare providers.
The healthcare metaverse can also improve healthcare efficiency by automating administrative tasks, such as appointment scheduling and medical record keeping. This technology can help healthcare providers focus on providing better patient care.
AI can also help address healthcare disparities by providing healthcare services to underserved communities. Just as telemedicine has improved healthcare availability to the underserved, the healthcare metaverse could broaden the availability of health services to a much wider population. Additionally, AI-powered chatbots can provide medical advice and answer patient questions in communities where in-person healthcare services are not readily available. This technology can help improve access to healthcare services and reduce healthcare disparities.
Challenges of the Healthcare Metaverse:
Creating the healthcare metaverse is not without its challenges. One of the significant challenges is ensuring that the technology and AI are developed and used ethically. Technology can be designed by people who have never seen a patient or operating room. AI can be developed with inherent bias toward certain groups of people. It is therefore crucial to ensure that both are developed and used in an ethical manner. Physicians must have a seat at the table for their development.
Another challenge is ensuring that these tools are integrated into the healthcare system effectively. Healthcare systems are complex, and the metaverse must be integrated into the system in a way that does not disrupt patient care, but rather adds value. Healthcare providers must work with software developers to ensure that the metaverse is integrated into the healthcare system effectively.
Another challenge is ensuring that patients are comfortable with the use of the technology required in the metaverse. Patients may be wary of new technologies, and it is essential to ensure that patients understand the benefits of these tools and how it can improve patient outcomes. Additionally, the cost of new technologies may crowd-out the same underserved populations we are trying to reach.
The metaverse is a technologic realm that is only beginning to be explored, but there are already many potential advantages to creating a healthcare ecosystem within the metaverse. Increased availability and efficiency are only the start of possibilities for a well-developed healthcare metaverse. Physicians are necessary in the development of such an ecosystem, though. We have steadily created the technology required to create the healthcare metaverse, as seen on this FDA website, and all we need is the integration. This is where physicians need to be included. To be helpful, we as clinicians must learn and apply artificial intelligence tools to the healthcare metaverse to create it around patients because we know patients best. The healthcare metaverse has incredible potential and physicians will be the ones who must lead us there.
1. Sarhan F. Telemedicine in healthcare. 1: exploring its uses, benefits and disadvantages. Nurs. Times. 2009 Oct 1;105(42):10–13.
2. Moghadas A., Jamshidi M., Shaderam M. World Automation Congress. IEEE; 2008 Sep. Telemedicine in healthcare system; pp. 1–6. 2008.
3. Little A.D. Telecommunications: Can it Help Solve America’s Health Care Problem? Cambridge, MA: Arthur D. Little, 1992
4. Shao C, et al. Telemedicine Associated with Decreased No-show Visits among Surgical Specialties, Scientific Forum, American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2022.