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The NHS will see you now … in the Metaverse

In response to recent news that the NHS, the publicly funded National Health Service in England, is planning to combat a dramatic deterioration in waiting times through the use of “virtual wards”, we dust off our “The doctor will see you now … in the Metaverse” post from last year.

The current NHS crisis has been exacerbated by the number of patients stuck in hospital, unable to be discharged because of a lack of care at home – a reported 13,000 hospital beds are filled by patients who are medically well, but need help to be sent home.

Under government plans, patients will be treated in virtual wards that provide twenty-fou hour monitoring for up to 50,000 people a month. Patients will be given wearable devices that track vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels and alert medical teams to any changes.

The concept of virtual wards was trialled in Cornwall last year. The trial saw patients provided with equipment that allowed them to be monitored by clinicians in their own home, preventing people needing to call an ambulance and use a hospital bed.

Below is “The doctor will see you now … in the Metaverse”, first published on the 10th of June 2022.

You look down at the toilet bowl and information, which seems to hang in mid-air approximately 30 centimetres from your face, starts to appear in front of you. You check the readout. Colour analysis results? Slightly dehydrated and somewhat expected after last night’s office party. Proteins? Again, ever so slightly above normal and linked to the prior evening’s excessive alcohol consumption. pH levels? Normal. Ketones? Normal. Glucose? Negative. Nitrates? Negative. Leukocyte esterase? Negative. Your morning clinical urine analysis complete, the data will be stored on your Digital Health Record and shared with your local general practitioner, who will schedule a follow-up if necessary.

Ubiquitous connectivity and Metaverse technologies, notably augmented reality (AR), linked to artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that can analyse and process visual and internet of things data (like a sensor in your toilet bowl), will allow us to monitor our health on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis. The results of which can be uploaded to your personal medical files held for inspection and cross-referencing and analysis by your primary, nursing, or speciality healthcare providers, or their algorithms.

These technologies could improve people’s lives and help reduce the burden on national and local government healthcare. The Apple Watch, a Web 2.0 wearable, can already provide healthcare applications including high and low heart rate notifications, an irregular heartbeat notification, an electrocardiogram (ECG) application to check your heart's rhythm and electrical activity, and fall detection. In the future Metaverse technologies will enhance our understanding of our personal health to the point at which early detection and prevention of some of the world’s biggest health issues might be possible. Heart disease? How about nanobots continuously measuring for signs of narrowed bloods vessels, a precursor to certain types of heart disease, and updating this information to your Digital Health Record, where doctors can explore virtual replica, or digital twin, of your entire circulatory system Innerspace-style.

In the short-term there are even more pressing issues at hand. A 2021 article in peer-reviewed general medical journal The Lancet, suggests that more than 30% of people worldwide live with some form of chronic pain, pain that is ongoing and can last for weeks, months or years, even after the injury or illness that caused it has healed or gone away. The prevalence of chronic pain results in a significant personal and economic burden for both individuals and governments around the world. What if, utilising Metaverse technologies, people suffering from chronic pain can get real-time feedback on the impact of any treatment or medication, hastening their road to recovery?

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Addendum: Connected health company Withings used CES 2023 to launch its new connected health product for the bathroom. The Withings U-Scan device lives in your toilet and tests your urine without requiring you to capture a sample via more messy, traditional means. The company plans to introduce two consumer health cartridges that help monitor your metabolism and menstrual cycle. Withings describes the product as a “miniaturized health lab that will change the way people monitor their health from the comfort and privacy of their own bathroom”.

National Cancer Intitute/Unsplash

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