Artificial intelligence combined with augmented and virtual reality is laying the foundation for the metaverse in almost every industry. The metaverse is in the novelty phase that gives companies a competitive advantage, improves sales and builds a brand reputation.
In healthcare, however, the metaverse turns out to be much more. Not only is it the natural evolution of telehealth – introduced as the new norm after the pandemic – it can also remove key healthcare barriers and challenges.
August 2022 Healthcare in the Metaverse Report of Market Research Future predicts that by 2030, the metaverse healthcare market will grow at a CAGR of 48.3% and be worth $5.37 billion. Metaverse technology will drive a disruptive shift in healthcare, providing better surgical precision, opening new treatment channels and lowering costs, while improving patient outcomes. Companies driving this change include Brainlab AG, Novarad Corporation, GE Healthcare, Siemens Healthineers, Meta Platforms Inc., Nvidia, Microsoft, Roblox and gameChange VR.
Mental health and the metaverse
In terms of mental health, the metaverse has the potential to avert a serious crisis. the 2022 Report on the State of Mental Health in America reveals that nearly 50 million American adults (19.86%) had a mental illness in 2019. More than 2.5 million young people struggle with severe depression. Both adults and young people cannot access treatment due to a lack of insurance, long waiting times, lack of professionals and an overwhelmed and inefficient mental health system.
TechRepublic interviewed Robert Bell, founder and CEO of 2B3Da California-based company that uses metaverse technology to provide mental health treatment to U.S. veterans, another group hard hit by the U.S. mental health crisis.
2B3D migrates its telehealth platforms to its Virtual Reality Medical Environment (VRME), which is currently being developed by its subsidiary VRx Solutions. The 2B3D telehealth migration will be phased, with the priority first being to provide real-time virtual environment treatment for suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD.
Once the 2B3D metaverse is validated, they plan to expand to all states and regions, ideally aligned with local VA facilities. “Statistically, more than 800,000 people in the world commit suicide every year, and 45,000 of those individuals live in the United States. Similarly, the high rate of veteran suicides remains unacceptable, with 6,261 veteran suicides in 2019,” the 2B3D founder and CEO told TechRepublic.
TO SEE: Metaverse Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)
2B3D’s new metaverse project is in full development phase. They recently completed a first cognitive testing program that included: Forge Forge Project, a veteran-owned and operated non-profit organization dedicated to ending veteran suicide through the use of VR technology. The cognitive test results will be used to incorporate the most effective trauma treatment therapies in a virtual reality environment.
“As we migrate from today’s telehealth platforms to a real-time virtual environment, we can take the frustration out of the experience for the individual; no more waiting on phone lines or being told your symptoms aren’t severe enough to get attention,” Bell said.
The main goal of 2B3D is to build a metaverse experience that allows a qualified professional treatment. “We provide at least a 24/7/365 group therapy option,” Bell says.
Metaverse technology in healthcare, data security and accessibility
2B3D’s metaverse efforts are primarily designed in Unit, a platform for real-time content creation. The company would also like to investigate Unreal Engine 5an advanced real-time tool for generating next-generation 3D content and experiences.
Data security, cybersecurity and accessibility are top priorities for the company. “The 2B3D team understands the challenges of implementing a full technical solution, from data storage and cybersecurity requirements to end-user devices,” noted Bell. Additionally, Bell emphasized the importance of their metaverse to be accessible through any VR goggles or headsets.
“It can be difficult to adopt new technologies in a healthy and robust network, but the key to all new technology implementations is having the right IT architecture to meet your requirements,” he said. “Just like designing a house, you will always have problems with plumbing if your pipes are not the right size. This is very much the case with metaverses, as they require a fair amount of bandwidth to function properly.”
With regard to data security, 2B3D believes that the blockchain and NFT functions are the solution to address data privacy and cybersecurity. “Medical records management can be easily accomplished through blockchain technologies,” assures Bell.
TO SEE: Ethical Policy for Artificial Intelligence (Tech Republic Premium)
Blockchain technology is known for its security potential. The blockchain is decentralized and data is not uploaded to a server or stored in a single location. Data in the blockchain also passes through different computers or nodes, is encrypted and validated and is extremely difficult to hack because all computers or nodes on the network have to be hacked at the same time to compromise the data.
Healthcare organizations must also comply with regulatory standards for patient data management established by state and federal laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.
Bell said telehealth paved the way for the metaverse cybersecurity challenges. “We do not anticipate any different or significant cybersecurity challenges than those facing the telehealth sector today,” he said.
Bell does not believe that the healthcare metaverse can replace medical professionals or mental health specialists. “For example, you can easily do group counseling in the metaverse, but you can’t X-ray or repair a broken bone,” he explained.
The healthcare metaverse “is a much-needed extension, complement, and major enhancement of core services yet to be delivered,” Bell said.