The pace at which the healthcare sector is building its metaverse is overwhelming. New scientific studies, clinical trials and medical VR and AR devices continue to appear at a rapid pace. Applications range from advanced surgeries and procedures to mental health, pain management, training, simulations, remote care and rehabilitation.
In the US, the American Senior Communities (ASC) has partnered with MyndVR and is already providing therapeutic virtual reality to hundreds of senior communities across the country. In the UK, gameChange VR is being used in select NHS mental health services.
The Natural Evolution of Telemedicine
As TechRepublic recently reported, by 2030, the metaverse healthcare industry will grow at a CAGR of 48.3% and be worth $5.37 billion.
Brenda Kay Wiederhold of Virtual Reality Medical Center explains in the newspaper Metaverse Games: Game Changer for Healthcare? how the innovation is storming into healthcare as the natural evolution of telemedicine, heavily inspired by the gaming industry.
TechRepublic spoke with health experts from Penumbra – a healthcare company that delivers new technology products – and experts from REAL Immersive System, makers of a therapeutic metaverse.
“When we combine the expertise of award-winning game designers with the knowledge of rehabilitation providers such as occupational and physical therapists, we can deliver these science-backed immersive experiences that are both physically and mentally stimulating,” said Gita Barry, general manager of immersive healthcare at Penumbra. TechRepublic.
Chronic neck and back pain, cognitive impairment, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury, stroke rehabilitation, therapeutic and wellness are some of the treatments that metaverse experience can provide. The company’s metaverse games are specifically designed to strengthen upper and core body, cognitive and motor skills, physical and cognitive rehabilitation, and more. Penumbra received its first FDA approval in 2019.
A wide range of scientific studies support the benefits of metaverse for healthcare practices. For example, a study of VR rehabilitation for Parkinson’s found that these new technologies are more effective at determining overall improvement than conventional rehabilitation programs.
“VR is an extraordinary tool when used properly because it really leverages the principles of neuroplasticity, intrinsically motivating patients to work harder and longer in rehabilitation, with the goal of ultimately patient recovery.” speed up,” said Barry.
Steven Chen, senior director of product management for REAL Immersive, told TechRepublic that patients face rehabilitation challenges such as adherence to care plans, monitoring and engagement. Chen explained that rehabilitation for patients can be painful, difficult, boring and uncomfortable.
“Reimagining rehabilitation as an experience that provides the right level of physical, mental and cognitive challenge, while keeping people engaged and entertained, means patients are more likely to stick to a program, enjoy it and participate proactively.” to look for those experiences,” Chen said.
TO SEE: Ethical Policy for Artificial Intelligence (Tech Republic Premium)
What gaming professionals bring to the table
Healthcare organizations are also building on what they have recently learned to conquer: remote technologies. Before 2020, according to Forbes, only 43% of healthcare facilities offered remote treatments. Today, that number reaches nearly 95%. And while not all metaverse healthcare applications are designed for remote care, the industry has gained experience with the rapid adoption of new technologies.
TechRepublic asked Chen what skills gaming professionals bring to the metaverse construct of healthcare. He said it’s all about creating immersive experiences. “The more immersive an experience is, the more engaging, entertaining, and effective it can be from a therapeutic and clinical standpoint,” Chen explains.
From their professional experience to design skills and understanding of what works best to maximize the sense of immersion, game professionals bring a lot to the table. “As a game designer, you have to understand the technical limitations of the hardware platforms and the software tools we use to build those experiences, but those technical skills are only useful if you also have the experience and design skills to match,” Chen said.
The technology that builds VR experiences for healthcare
Penumbra and the Real System VR team had to design metaverse experiences specifically targeting physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language rehabilitation, and general mental wellbeing.
“For example, when a physical therapist works with a patient to improve their range of motion, they perform specific physical movements,” Chen explains. This work requires an understanding of the underlying clinical principles used in rehabilitation and translating them into VR experiences.
The healthcare metaverse solutions aren’t just VR headsets; The patient’s arms, legs, upper body and core are ‘rigged’ with VR sensors and tracking technology. “In VR, we can re-contextualize those movements as an immersive experience and layered goal-oriented gamification that encourages people to do and enjoy more,” Chen added.
While virtual reality therapy builds on existing treatments and therapies, it is also not limited by various limitations in the real world. “Instead of a therapy clinic, we can put you on a tropical island, or your favorite city, underwater or in space,” Chen said. Immersion distracts the patient from pain and fatigue and improves the quality of a patient’s results.
The technology leading the way in the healthcare metaverse sector is different from the AR/VR technology used by everyday consumers. “The healthcare environment has different demands than commercial entertainment products, so I would recommend products designed specifically for healthcare use — without it, you’re just playing games,” Chen said.
Accessibility in VR care isn’t just about the hardware, it’s about making sure the software, virtual environments and experiences are easy to use and accessible to people who have never tried VR or AR. Designers have therefore built guidance into the experiences. On the other hand, in order to adapt to effective rehabilitation or treatments, the simulations can be adapted by therapists to the patient’s requirements.
“Therapists need the ability to change the difficulty and stimulation levels of an experience on the fly, or change the game settings to add new elements to the experience as they see fit for that patient,” Chen says.
TO SEE: Metaverse Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The metaverse benefits for patients
Motivating patients is one of the most critical factors influencing the speed and extent of recovery. Barry explained that VR really captures a patient’s imagination and motivates them during their rehabilitation, “intrinsically motivating them to continue with their exercises and help them progress faster.”
Metaverse virtual reality experiences can distract the patients from the mental hurdles and inconveniences and allow them to focus on the task at hand, such as “moving a virtual bird from one branch to another or playing a virtual pinball game”.
“We’ve heard from caregivers using our VR for rehabilitation that they’ve seen patients move in ways they didn’t think possible and in some cases progress faster than they expected, and that’s the ultimate goal: to help patients achieve their goals. get the most out of their rehab experience as soon as possible,” said Barry.
For many, a healthcare metaverse is not an uncommon sight as the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine and patients demanded new technology options for care. “This technology has the potential to enable a single therapist to effectively treat more patients or patients who are struggling to access services,” Chen said. VR experiences are also emerging as solutions to issues affecting the industry, such as healthcare professional burnout, increased demand and long wait times, and overburdened care centers.
“VR offers therapists a new tool to increase engagement and satisfaction with the rehabilitation experience, often leading to better outcomes in the real world,” Barry said.