The metaverse could transform healthcare if industry leaders can find a way to wrap their minds around it.

When Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., M.S., MBA, started using virtual reality to treat patients, let’s just say the technology was cumbersome.

“We called it the Darth Vader headset because it had a huge front load,” says Wiederhold, a psychologist, entrepreneur and pioneer in virtual reality medicine.

The headset, a hulking black helmet that allowed the user to feel like they were in a different environment — sort of — was so large that it had to be attached to the ceiling with a bungee cord to help the user manage the weight. “It was just so miserable for people,” says Wiederhold. “But it was very immersive.”

That was 25 years ago. Since then, not only have giant helmets been replaced by lightweight headsets, but the idea of virtual reality has expanded from relatively simple audiovisual simulations to the emerging, immersive blend of reality, unreality and data known as the “metaverse.”

Now technology leaders such as Wiederhold are thinking about the ways the healthcare industry can leverage the metaverse to improve the patient experience, healthcare operations and, ultimately, patient outcomes.


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