Meta Medicine: Are We Ready for the Mediverse?

Jagmeet P. Singh, MD, MSc, DPhil


August 17, 2022

My kids chipped in to buy me a Meta Quest virtual-reality headset for Father's Day. I slipped it on snugly over my eyes, logged into the app, and was immediately transported to a NASA space station. I hung out with the astronauts and watched them do their daily chores. It was a truly eye-opening experience (no pun intended).

The author wearing a virtual-reality headset.
Credit: Jagmeet P. Singh, MD, MSc, DPhil

The metaverse allows for virtual experiences that are real-enough to give you the feeling of truly "being-there." Through virtual, augmented, and mixed reality aided by artificial intelligence, individuals can be transported into a parallel environment.

As a cardiac electrophysiologist, I have used augmented reality headsets as an investigational tool for creating holographic maps of the left atrial anatomy. But, the metaverse is a whole different ball game. It is a shared virtual three-dimensional space accessed over the internet that allows for an immersive, interactive experience among people who may be on different ends of the globe.

Facebook's name change to Meta shows how it envisions transforming the world of social media into one of virtual reality. What about medicine? Can the metaverse of medicine — what I'm calling the Mediverse — create a shared virtual environment among patients, students, and clinicians?

The Mediverse can be far more than a glorified version of telehealth which will eventually evolve beyond video visits. This metaverse of medicine will provide a realistic patient-doctor experience in a virtual clinic room. Sensor-derived vital data, ECG, and lab tests using apps projected onto the Mediverse platform will allow the equivalent of an in-person visit, even when physically apart.

Of course, there will be challenges around privacy, interoperability, regulations, and licensures to practice across geographic boundaries and in the metaverse. Importantly, this virtual experience should never completely replace the physical and personal contact of true in-person patient interactions. However, it could be a beautiful complement.

Entrepreneurs have begun dipping their toes into the Mediverse ocean. Clinical initiatives are ongoing, especially in the mental health world. The Mediverse may be ideal for treating situational phobias (airplanes, heights, closed spaces, etc.), posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and hallucinations. The virtual world allows a clinician to recreate the triggering event in a supportive virtual environment using digital avatars to mimic real life experiences. Postsurgery rehabilitation is beginning to ascend to the metaverse, where personal exercise guidance can be provided. At my center, we have begun using it as an investigational tool to teach cardiovascular procedures, and surgeons at several premier institutions have used mixed reality for performing and planning surgeries.

CT, MRI, or other images can overlay the surgical field, providing details on where to make the cut, place the catheter, or fit the prosthesis. The metaverse will enable multiple physicians to work together in challenging cases and allow surgeons and trainees to practice and learn through gamification. The smart hospital operating room can create the metaverse environment with high resolution virtual reality cameras projecting live surgeries in a 360-degree mode. Recently, a surgical conference in Seoul, Korea, enabled over 200 surgeons from around the world who were wearing virtual reality headsets to attend a live surgical demo via their laptops.

The Mediverse can help take personalized medicine to a new level through its promise of "digital twins." A digital twin of a real person may be used to assist in predicting and preventing disease or test new therapies. A digital dummy could be used to test medications, doses, or surgical interventions to see which one may have the best clinical outcome. Imagine the NASA twin astronaut study on the effects of microgravity on long-term health and cardiopulmonary function using a digital rather than a real-life counterpart. Digital twins could be fast-forwarded through time to examine the impact of an intervention or rewound to playback an unfortunate occurrence; the potential is limitless.

The Mediverse will expand the reach of the hospital of the future, edging toward the construct of a virtual hospital. In turn, virtual hospitals could provide specialized services to remote locations. While a virtual future may seem dystopian in some ways, there is no avoiding these technological advancements. By embracing it, nurturing it, and adapting it to our needs, we can advance healthcare in ways previously unimaginable. As with any new technology, however, it's essential that we keep our sights on access and equity as the world transforms in front of our eyes.

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About Dr Jagmeet Singh
Jag Singh is a physician, scientist, and professor at Harvard. He is passionate about social issues, healthcare redesign, digital health, and medical device innovations. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Future Care - Sensors, Artificial Intelligence, and the Reinvention of Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter @JagSinghMD


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