Health, the new frontier of the metaverse?

Digital health is booming, a phenomenon reinforced by the health crisis: teleconsultations, online patient monitoring apps, artificial intelligence for diagnosis… Now added to this is the metaverse, this developing virtual world, which affects mainly games or festive events such as concerts.

Already, pharmaceutical laboratories have started. The American Pfizer has thus created Hemocraft, a kind of online game in which young hemophiliacs learn to manage their treatment. Recently, an American brand of aligners for teeth, Invisalign, offers an interactive dental practice in the metaverse to get avatars (or rather their real alter egos) “to learn more about the product in order to start a conversation with a dentist or an orthodontist.

In France, the Clinique des Champs-Élysées, a posh aesthetic medicine establishment with a strong presence on social networks, has chosen to organize its first day in the metaverse this fall on the theme of obesity treatments. That day, a few dozen avatars attend online conferences. In the virtual room, they find themselves – some more concentrated than others – in front of the lecturers who have come to present the possible procedures to them. The goal: to allow patients who would not dare to push the doors of the clinic in the real world to get information, sitting quietly behind their computers.

The goal isn’t groundbreaking, but the potential applications may go beyond just raising awareness. In Paris, medical professors Boris Hansel and Patrick Nataf plan to launch a university degree dedicated to the metaverse in health in March 2023.

“No gimmicks needed”

“The metaverse is an incredible opportunity,” enthuses Professor Nataf. “In terms of training in particular: surgeons located in two different countries will be able to help each other, their instruments being able to interact thanks to mixed reality”, that is to say the fusion of the real and virtual worlds. “We could imagine having a black box of our practice, like for an airplane, to be able to analyze, after the fact, what we did during a surgical operation”, he explains.

“Thanks to the metaverse, we can reproduce for an individual, with all their characteristics, their ‘digital twin’, for personalized medicine”, predicts Professor Hansel, who hastens to reassure: “We will never replace the announcement of a diagnosis or virtual patient support. »

For her part, Lamia Zinaï, a nutritionist who took part in the metaverse day at the Clinique des Champs-

Élysées on obesity also sees an advantage in this: “We can imagine that in the case of a socially stigmatizing disease, the metaverse and the avatars can help patients, allow them to approach teams of caregivers who will give them access to tools for their pathology. »

If it is in its infancy, the metaverse is already attracting investors. According to a McKinsey report, investments in the sector reached 120 billion dollars in 2022. However, it raises abysmal questions, even more so in health. Including that of the public concerned, while the dematerialization of public services is already leaving part of the population on the side.

Moreover, who will regulate the use of the metaverse in health and what happens there? “It should be dedicated to medical teams and be very well supervised; so that young patients are not bombarded with advertisements,” said Lamia Zinaï.

Without forgetting the crucial question of the effectiveness of the solutions that could be proposed. “This is the first step: for now, we have to identify the needs. We don’t need to have gadgets, but specific environments and objects to be able to treat our patients,” emphasizes Professor Hansel. At the Bichat hospital in Paris, a connected health responsibility center has even been created to meet this need for evaluation.

Marie-Morgane LE MOEL/AFP

Metavers: surgery or psychiatry, various applications

The metaverse could open the field to all kinds of health applications, even if there are still a number of limits, believes Frédéric Thomas, French specialist in health issues at the Roland Berger consulting firm. When asked how the metaverse is different from virtual reality and online apps, he explains that “the metaverse has several characteristics: first, it’s a universe that will persist, even when I’m not connected. Then, it’s an open universe, a priori without barriers, you just need a computer and a virtual reality headset. It is also, among other characteristics, immersive. And there is an avatar. However, most online apps, or virtual reality, only have a few of these features at the moment. The metaverse also raises many questions about the inequalities of access between the different categories of the population: already today, we see in the polls that not everyone knows what this is about and that, among those who know what it is, most are young men. The metaverse therefore raises the question of exclusion. We have to bring it to the general public. For now, it is a dream that guides the actions of a number of players and investors.

So, beyond its limits, such as unequal access, can the metaverse contribute something to health? Frédéric Thomas goes further: “We can imagine all types of things. For example, you might have a “digital twin”. This would allow the laboratories to be able to work not on you, but on your avatar, which would be a clone of yourself, in a parallel universe, via mathematical modeling. We could detect breast cancer on your avatar, for example if you (and the avatar) have such a genetic mutation favoring this type of tumor. In health, interesting things could be done in psychiatry or in setting up programs for monitoring patients. There is also the subject of training and learning, both for caregivers and for patients. Can surgeons be trained more quickly using virtual reality? All this raises many questions. »

Digital health is booming, a phenomenon reinforced by the health crisis: teleconsultations, online patient monitoring apps, artificial intelligence for diagnosis… Now added to this is the metaverse, this developing virtual world, which affects Mainly so far games or festive events such as concerts. Already, laboratories…

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Health, the new frontier of the metaverse?

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