Healthcare systems are once again leveraging technology models to expand care delivery. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), health experts are integrating the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into the healthcare experience. The world’s first metaverse hospital is set to be launched by the Thumbay Group in UAE this October to further blur the boundaries of access to healthcare around the world.
The metaverse, a tech concept that has become increasingly popular since Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg reinvented the social media platform to integrate VR and AR models, uses an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds, which users can access and navigate in real-time. Users can navigate these virtual worlds using their eye movements and voice commands, with a headset that completely immerses them by generating the sensation of being physically present there.
In simple terms, one can be fully immersed in another reality (a virtual one), interacting through an avatar with others in the same virtual space as they would physically.
Founder and President of the Thumbay Group, Dr. Thumbar Moideen, says the metaverse hospital will be a fully virtual hospital where people can come in as an avatar, take a tour of the hospital as they would physically, and even consult with a doctor. According to the founder and president of the healthcare group, the metaverse hospital will allow international patients to have a feel of the hospital and experience its broad range of services and treatments in real-time before traveling for any procedure.
Further, patients can also have immersive remote consultations with healthcare providers through their avatars without leaving their homes. This also helps solve the issue of long waits and distance barriers, as patients can interact with their doctors in an immersive consultation in the virtual hospital.
Dr. Moideen also emphasized the benefit of the virtual model for patients admitted on-site who would love to spend time with their families back home.
“For example, a Sri Lankan person has been with us for a long period of time who was paralyzed after a car accident, and his sensory motions are gone, but only his brain is functioning,” explained Dr. Moideen. “He can virtually visit his room in Sri Lanka through AR and VAR technology. This motivates long-term care patients and gives them hope that they can go back to their country.”
In addition to launching the fully virtual hospital, Dr. Moideen also says that the group is launching AI-driven tech tools within its hospital systems. Using VR technology and face-recognizing cameras, the hospitals will smoothen and speed up patient care flow, removing barriers that slow down patient care in the hospital.
For instance, using these AI systems that can identify a patient by capturing their car number plate and face, patient care processes are already activated before the patient steps out of the car into the building.
“So, when a patient arrives at the reception, his file is already open. The process of showing identity or insurance card will be eliminated. If a patient goes to the pharmacy, cameras will recognize his face, and the system will indicate to the pharmacist that the patient has come to collect his medicine,” Vice President of the group Akbar Moideen Thumbay noted.
The news of the launch of the world’s first metaverse hospital comes just seven months after the first metaverse-driven customer service center was launched in Dubai. In January at the Arab Health 2022, the UAE Ministry of Health and Community Protection (MOHAP) announced the feat, explaining that the virtual customer care space was designed to offer digitally immersive sensory and interactive experiences to meet customer care demands.
The Metaverse Hospital no doubt will break the walls of the conventional patient care model. Patients and doctors would be able to interact, monitor treatment progress, and medication adherence, and even make diagnoses and initiate treatments in the 3D virtual world. This offers key solutions to some longstanding challenges of long wait lists and distance barriers.
While the virtual hospital has its benefits as it bypasses barriers to accessing healthcare, it may come with its own challenges. It is yet to be known how tech firms would tackle the issue of data and security in the metaverse as well as payment systems, legal and regulatory frameworks guiding the use of the metaverse, and the challenge of time and space in virtual reality.
Nonetheless, this is a breakthrough both for tech and healthcare. Fusing both will no doubt enhance patient care delivery and expand the world of medical travel. As more health companies and tech firms navigate this uncharted territory, it could open up more worlds of digital solutions to the wide range of healthcare challenges we face today.