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I recently attended Social Media Marketing World 2022 in San Diego. It’s the biggest conference of its kind, and the keynote talks were dominated by conversations around Web 3.0 and the Metaverse.
The terms Web 3.0 and Metaverse are new to our vocabulary, and maybe you’re thinking ‘I’m not sure I really get it’, or ‘why on earth should it matter in Private Practice?’. To that I say, change is a-coming, and I see fantastic potential for its use in private healthcare.
If you need a little convincing, think back to pre-pandemic times. Very few clinicians were using telemedicine prior to Covid, and yet, within the space of a few weeks, if you wanted to survive in Private Practice, you took your practice online. You connected with friends, family, and yes, patients, virtually. No doubt you attended online webinars and virtual conferences as well. In other words, you’re already used to working in a virtual space, and so why not develop your understanding of what’s going to be coming, and how it can apply to Private Practice?
Let’s start with some terminology.
When we’re thinking about Web 3.0, we need to think about the history of the web. Leaders in this space talk about Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 as our past, and 3.0 as the future.
If you were alive before the internet arrived, you’ll remember how quaint our processes of researching and gathering information were.
When I was at medical school, I can remember loading CDs of the Cochrane database into an ancient bit of tech, looking up the titles of reference papers, manually writing them down in a list, cycling across town to the British library to then laboriously drag dozens of large, dusty journal volumes from shelves (having first found a step to reach them). I’d then have to thumb through the volume to find the page, locate the specific article or publication, and either make notes from it or drape it over an expensive photocopier. It seems ridiculous in retrospect.
Thankfully, along came the ‘information superhighway (aka ‘tinterweb’ if you’re from Bolton), and Web 1.0 was born.It was very much a one-way dialogue. You got to look up useful information using ‘Netscape’ and ‘Ask Jeeves’, but it was in read-only format (and you couldn’t leave a comment about Jeeves’ pathetic lack of knowledge about Diamond Blackfan Syndrome.)
Next came Web 2.0, and the era of social connection and user-generated content – think social media and blogging. It’s also a time when social platforms and online businesses started voraciously tracking our data and using it to push ads in front of us.
Web 3.0 marks a fundamental shift in terms of ownership of our data. Instead of big platforms such as Facebook dictating what we get to see and experience, we’ll begin to see the rise of ‘decentralised’ platforms providing web experiences. To understand this, it helps to take a peek at what’s happening in the world of cryptocurrency.Cryptocurrencies aren’t currencies that operate through banks; they operate through Blockchain technologies. Blockchain is decentralised digital system, and it’s essentially a digital ledger- an anonymised, public ledger. It’s called Blockchain technology because the data is stored in block across a network of computers, creating a gigantic database. The goal of blockchain technology is to allow digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not tampered with. Blockchain technology is also what’s going to be powering web 3.0, and it’s attraction for users is that it’s decentralised, in other words, we won’t be ‘governed’ by central, controlling organisations (such as Google and Facebook).
AR- Augmented Reality
This is a blend of experiences in the physical or ‘real’ world, with a little bit of digital magic on top, which expands the experience. An example of AR in action (and used daily by millions) is Snapchat. Snapchat has an array of filters, and you’ve probably played with them.
VR – Virtual Reality
VR is a simulated experience, and whilst it may resemble some aspects of the real world, it’s not restrained by the physical world. In a VR experience, you might be able to defy gravity, or have a completely different body or experience. Rich VR experiences can be provided using equipment such as VR headsets (e.g. Oculus Quest), but they might also involve sensory or physical force feedback through haptic technology.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “what on earth does blockchain, VR and Web 3.0 have to do with clinical care?” If we think about digital patient data, currently it’s held by healthcare organisations, and if you’ve ever had to ‘port’ your clinical data or medical imaging about, you’ll recall what a total pain it can be. I’m regularly asked by patients I’m seeing in the private sector “can’t you see my NHS notes?”. Imagine truly owning your clinical data, and having instant access to it.
Web 3.0 is one platform that the ‘Metaverse’ sits upon, and it’s already in existence.
If you have teenagers in the house who are into gaming, chances are you’ve heard of games such as Roblox or Fortnite.
Web 3.0 also currently exists in the medical world. There’s even data to back up its use – VR trained surgeons have better overall performance when compared with purely traditionally trained surgeons.
If as a medical student, the best you can hope to gain in terms of experience is a glimpse over a surgeon’s shoulder, it seems very logical that VR training is the way to go.
The scope for VR and Web 3.0 in medicine is huge.
Imagine learning anatomy without the need for a cadaver?
Surgeons will be able to stream surgery around the world, whilst students join along wearing their VR headsets. Hours of skills practice can be gained without harming a single patient! Surgery will become swifter and more accurate.
And it’s not just about the Clinicians.
VR is already being used to make experiences more calming for patients.
A study at St Georges Hospital in which patients undergoing awake surgery wore VR headsets so they could watch relaxing scenes (such as tropical beaches) during the procedure, showed that 100% of the participants had a better hospital experience, and almost three-quarters felt less anxious. Patient’s blood pressure and heart rates were also less elevated, and the use of VR can remove the need for sedation entirely.
There are even examples of VR being used to reduce pain in labour.
Perhaps one of the most exciting metaverse experiences we will have in the future will be in the way we get together in conferences and clinical meetings.
If like me, you find yourself bored and disengaged at medical conferences, it’s often because endless Power Point presentations send us to sleep, and there’s almost zero chance for audience participation. All that can change with VR, and we can even ‘teleport’ in from our own homes without the need to schlep across the world.
In my own clinical sphere (sport and exercise medicine), I reckon we could make rehab much more exciting. I’d personally be far more likely to engage in my hip control exercises if it involved a bit of VR spice through gamification.
You don’t need fancy equipment to experience Web 3.0, and there already fun places you can explore for free, such as www.decentraland.org.
I’m excited for our digital future, and I’d encourage you get stuck in and embrace it.
I’ll be on the journey with you, and hope we get to meet virtually soon!
Dr Cath x