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Medtech in the Metaverse

Using the metaverse in medtech is here to stay, and according to the founder of Gatherverse.org, will only become more common.

Katie Hobbins

February 7, 2023

3 Min Read
Keynote speaker Christopher Lafayette standing in front of his slides at IME West
Image courtesy of Informa Staff

What happens when technology becomes more advanced than the technologist? Christopher Lafayette, founder of Gatherverse.org, posed the question at the end of his keynote address at the current IME West show in Anaheim, CA, stating that technology has caught up to the same intelligence level as the people creating it.

In his presentation, “Medical Technology within the Metaverse – The Fundamental Shift,” he discussed the current and future state of immersive medtech in the metaverse and what it means for vendors, technologists, and medical practitioners. The metaverse generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, or work. In Lafayette’s opinion, however, the concept means so much more, and gained major awareness during the pandemic because of increased virtual use, telemedicine, demand for personal protection equipment, changes in hospital operations, diagnostic technologies like PCR and antigen tests, and investment in medtech.

The use of telemedine took off at the beginning of the pandemic because of state shutdowns and increased chances of contracting COVID-19. In fact, virtual medical appointments increased by more than 50% between February and March of 2020, according to the American Medical Association, and has stayed popular as an easy way to checkup without driving to the doctor’s office. The pandemic also caused shortages for PPE due to increased demand for masks and gowns, and hospitals were made to adapt and change operations to accommodate COVID-19 only units and increased patient volume. The worldwide virus resulted in major research developments for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and vaccines, and the World Health Organization reported that, as of January 2021, over 1.3 billion diagnostic tests have been shipped internationally. The many changes in the medical environment since 2020 have also skyrocketed investment in medtech, with StartUp Health reporting that global venture capital funding for digital health companies reached $7.4 billion in 2020, a record high for the industry.

Regulatory changes from the pandemic became the linchpin that accelerated development and use of technology for medtech, Lafayette said, noting that many countries loosened regulations to allow for faster development and use of new technologies.

The metaverse continues to be used in educational settings for medical professionals. Virtual reality has become a key part in teaching students about human anatomy without the need for cadavers. Additionally, VR surgical simulation has been seen to help students refine their skills and reduce errors that could negatively impact a patient. Apart from education, Lafayette discussed surgeons using the metaverse during operations, meaning a surgeon could be across the country or a world away from the OR yet still be controlling surgery through robotic assistance. VR specific technology has also been used to help patients overcome the fear of undergoing physical therapy and to improve patient education through simulation exercises.

In the future, Lafayette described the potential of the metaverse in medicine through three categories: hospital simulations, hospital operations, and VR spaces.

For hospital simulation, he outlined different scenarios that could be used for teaching purposes or preparedness, including outbreak simulations, catastrophic conditions, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, power outages, and riots. Hospital operations include active ER environments, active hospital environments, utility flow, and contamination. For VR spaces, he said to expect the use of holopods, holochambers, and holodecks as well as a telepresence, experimental treatments, surgery simulations, body examinations, and therapy rooms. In addition to virtual reality, he said augmented reality will be next to take over the space.

Cautioning the audience, Lafayette said that while there are many opportunities for the metaverse in medtech, developers and investors must understand the quickness of technology advancement and come to terms with the likelihood of a product or service becoming irrelevant after one to two years.

“We have to think differently when building in the metaverse,” he said.

About the Author(s)

Katie Hobbins

Managing Editor, MD+DI

Katie Hobbins is managing editor for MD+DI and joined the team in July 2022. She boasts multiple previous editorial roles in print and multimedia medical journalism, including dermatology, medical aesthetics, and pediatric medicine. She graduated from Cleveland State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and promotional communications. She enjoys yoga, hand embroidery, and anything DIY. You can reach her at [email protected].

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