How do you talk to your doctor these days? Not so long ago, this question wouldn’t have even existed, as it was a given to simply book an appointment and head to the clinic. But the pandemic has made us increasingly comfortable with new ways of approaching healthcare – we are now self-testing, using online hubs and having all kinds of important conversations by video call. Of course, seeing your doctor in-person won’t end completely, but the medical world is changing.
Patient consultations are the traditional coalface of healthcare, but beyond them lies a world of actual and potential ways that the work of doctors, surgeons and clinical researchers may well transform. As we edge ever closer to a world of globally accessible spaces in the metaverse, decentralised data, augmented and virtual realities present opportunities for genuinely revolutionary change and are most definitely in the post, if not already at our doors.
Tristan Lawton is the Chief Clinical Officer at Canon Medical Research Europe, based in Edinburgh, which is a research and development centre that undertakes clinical research and uses it to realise cutting edge medical technologies. Together with Dr Ken Sutherland, the Company President, Tristan has been exploring the potential of metaverse technologies in a clinical context for some time and already sees some encouraging – and fascinating – developments. “As well as an increase in doctorless exams,” he says. “I believe the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has also recently approved Virtual Reality for the treatment of chronic pain. I think this is quite interesting, as it moves people away from defaulting to drugs.”
However, to gain a sense of the true direction of travel for healthcare and the immense potential for change through the metaverse and its technologies, one needs to understand an unpleasant and fundamental truth about healthcare: “A lot of treatment analysis has been conducted in very skewed populations and largely based on white European men,” explains Dr Sutherland. “And that's a historic practice that we've got to shift, as it creates risk when treatments are rolled out to broader populations.” Dr Sutherland also makes the important point that treatments should not expect to be embraced where they have not received testing specific to the population. In this respect, opening clinical trials in a space that can be globally accessed does not just broaden the dataset, but lays the foundations for trust further down the line.