Health looks to the gaming industry to build its metaverse

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Image: Penumbra

The pace at which the healthcare industry is building its metaverse is overwhelming. New scientific studies, clinical trials, and VR and AR medical devices continue to emerge at a rapid pace. Applications range from advanced surgeries and procedures to mental health treatment, pain management, training, simulations, remote care and rehabilitation.

In the United States, 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 used in some NHS mental health services.

The natural evolution of telemedicine

As TechRepublic recently reported, the healthcare metaverse by 2030 will grow 48.3% CAGR and be worth $5.37 billion.

Brenda Kay Wiederhold of the Virtual Reality Medical Center explains in the article Metaverse Games: Game Changer for Healthcare? how innovation is taking healthcare by storm as a natural evolution of telemedicine, heavily inspired by the gaming industry.

TechRepublic spoke with healthcare experts from Penumbra, a healthcare company providing new technology products, and with experts from REAL Immersive System, creators of a therapeutic metaverse device.

“When we combine the expertise of award-winning game designers with the knowledge of rehabilitation providers such as occupational therapists and physical therapists, we are able to deliver these immersive, science-backed experiences that are both physically and mentally stimulating” , Gita Barry, general manager of immersive healthcare at Penumbra told TechRepublic.

Chronic neck and back pain, cognitive impairment, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, stroke rehabilitation, therapy and wellness are some of the treatments that the metaverse experience can provide. The company’s Health Meta Universe games are specifically designed for upper and core strength, cognitive and motor skills, physical and cognitive rehabilitation and more. Penumbra received initial FDA clearance in 2019.

A wide range of scientific studies support the benefits of the metaverse for healthcare practices. For example, a study of virtual reality rehabilitation for Parkinson’s disease found that these new technologies are more effective in determining overall improvement than conventional rehabilitation programs.

“Virtual reality is an amazing tool when harnessed in the right way, as it truly harnesses the principles of neuroplasticity, inherently motivating patients to work harder and longer in rehabilitation, with the goal of accelerating recovery. patients,” Barry said.

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 rehabilitating patients can be painful, difficult to do, boring and inconvenient.

“Reimagining rehabilitation as an experience that presents the right level of physical, mental and cognitive challenge, while keeping people engaged and entertained means patients are more likely to stick with a program, enjoy participating in it and to proactively seek out these experiences,” Chen said.

SEE: Artificial Intelligence Ethics Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

What Gaming Professionals Bring to the Table

Healthcare organizations are also relying on what they have recently learned to conquer: remote technologies. According to Forbes, before 2020, only 43% of healthcare facilities offered remote care. Today, that number is nearly 95%. And while not all healthcare apps in the metaverse are designed for remote care, the industry is now experienced in rapidly adopting new technologies.

TechRepublic asked Chen what skills gaming professionals bring to building the health metaverse. He said it was about creating immersive experiences. “The more immersive an experience, the more engaging, entertaining, and therapeutically and clinically effective it can be,” Chen explained.

From their professional experience to their design skills and understanding of what works best to maximize the sense of immersion, gaming professionals bring a lot to the table. “As a game designer, you need to understand the technical constraints of the hardware platforms and software tools we use to create these experiences, but these technical skills are only useful if you also have the experience and skills to design to accompany them,” Chen said.

The technology that creates virtual reality experiences in healthcare

Penumbra and the team at Real System VR had to design metaverse experiences that specifically addressed physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy rehabilitation, and general mental wellness.

“For example, when a physical therapist works with a patient to improve their range of motion, they perform specific physical movements,” Chen explained. This work requires a solid understanding of the underlying clinical principles used in rehabilitation and their translation into virtual reality experiences.

Metaverse healthcare solutions aren’t just VR headsets; patients’ arms, legs, upper body and trunk are “fitted” with VR sensors and tracking technology. “In virtual reality, we can recontextualize these movements as an immersive experience and goal-oriented gamification that encourages people to do more and enjoy it,” adds Chen.

Although virtual reality therapy builds on existing treatments and therapies, it is also not constrained by several real-world limitations. “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 patient outcomes.

The technology leading the way in the health metaverse sector is different from the AR/VR technology used by everyday consumers. “The healthcare environment has different requirements than commercial entertainment products, so I would recommend products designed specifically for a healthcare use case – without it, you’re just playing games,” said Chen said.

Accessibility in virtual reality healthcare is not only about hardware, but also about ensuring that software, virtual environments and experiences are user-friendly and accessible to people who have never tried virtual reality or reality. previously increased. Designers therefore have guidance built into the experiments. On the other hand, to adapt to effective rehabilitation or treatments, the simulations can be personalized by the therapists according to the patient’s requests.

“Therapists should be able 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 if they feel the need for that patient,” says Chen. .

SEE: Metaverse Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The benefits of the metaverse for patients

Patient motivation is one of the most critical factors influencing the speed and extent of their recovery. Barry explained that VR really captures a patient’s imagination and motivates them through their rehabilitation, “intrinsically motivating them to stick with their exercises and helping them progress faster.”

Metaverse virtual reality experiences can distract patients from mental obstacles and discomfort and allow them to focus on the task at hand, which may be “moving a virtual bird from one branch to another or playing a game.” of virtual pinball”.

“We’ve heard from providers using our VR for rehabilitation that they’ve seen patients move in ways they didn’t think possible and even, in some cases, progress faster than they expected. , and that’s the ultimate goal: to help patients get the most out of their rehab experience as quickly as possible,” said Barry.

For many, a health metaverse is not an unusual sight as the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine and patients have demanded new technological options for care. “What this technology has the potential to do is allow a single therapist to effectively treat more patients, or patients who have difficulty accessing services,” Chen said. VR experiences are also emerging as solutions to issues affecting the industry like burnout of healthcare professionals, increased demand and long wait times, and overwhelmed care centers.

“Virtual reality offers therapists a new tool to increase engagement and satisfaction with the rehabilitation experience, which often leads to better real-world outcomes,” Barry said.

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