The metaverse is a hot topic in the Korean medical community.
In the wake of Covid-19’s outbreak, medical schools started developing VR-based education and training content. Doctors are increasingly discussing introducing telemedicine fully. Hospitals and healthcare businesses are working on metaverse-related technologies.
The high interest in the metaverse was proved last month when over 200 medical experts joined the Medical Metaverse Study Group (MMSG), launched by professors from the Seoul National University College of Medicine.
Park Chul-kee, the first chairperson of MMSG, a professor at the SNU College of Medicine’s Neurosurgery, said the group would handle new technologies that the medical community is paying attention to. “It will be the world’s first attempt to focus on the metaverse as a ‘platform’ that integrates new medical technologies,” he said.
Park forecast that as AR, VR, AI, and 3D-printing technologies advance rapidly, people will soon face the “medical metaverse era.”
MMSG will find ways to help clinicians and medical school faculties embrace medical metaverse properly, he said. It will also make efforts to revise the relevant legal system so that the medical metaverse can become feasible.
Question: Surprisingly, there has not been an organization dealing with the medical metaverse. It isn’t easy to find a case in other countries, too.
Answer: The attention to the metaverse is rising very fast like a fad, both in Korea and overseas. But the medical field’s portion in the metaverse discussion will account for less than 1 percent. Even in the U.S., there seems to be almost no investment in the medical metaverse. American individuals and some hospitals are dealing with the metaverse. Still, the U.S. does not have a medical society studying the metaverse exclusively. But if know-how is accumulated, metaverse-related businesses will enter the healthcare market, and the discussion for the medical metaverse is expected to grow rapidly.
Q: Why do you think the Korean medical community took the first step to discuss the medical metaverse in the world?
A: Korean healthcare professionals are highly interested in metaverse technologies and quality content. Korean doctors have made remarkable achievements in the research of VR and AR and AI and 3D printing technology. I believe Korea is leading the metaverse technology. So, against this background, the medical community’s interest in the medical metaverse came a little faster than those in other countries.
Q: Some criticize that the metaverse is not different from existing technologies and is just for marketing. What do you think?
A: This is because people have yet to grasp the whole concept of the metaverse. To realize the metaverse practically, we must wait a little longer until related technologies are developed. For a year or two, the metaverse could be seen as only experiencing digital media content through VR glasses or controlling an avatar like a computer game 10 years ago.
Still, suppose we only stay in this perspective, no matter how advanced the technology is. In that case, the metaverse will remain as just a training or meeting tool using VR.
Q: How does MMSG define the metaverse?
A: It is a system or a “platform” that integrates technologies the medical community is paying attention to. Using VR and AR through computers and devices, graphics and reality will be combined. Then, doctors will see patients through holograms or AR glasses. To realize the medical metaverse we envision, we need more technology development, institutions, and society. MMSG will predict these processes and work hard on technologies and systems. When the metaverse era comes, the usefulness of the medical metaverse will be revealed.
Q: How far has the Korean medical metaverse come?
A: We can immediately use the metaverse in examinations such as psychological tests and ophthalmic exams. If legal issues are solved, it is also possible to perform surgery navigation, robotic surgery, and “metaverse surgery.”
If the robot surgical console is connected around the operating room where the patient is, doctors can perform surgery outside the OR and even outside the hospital. Doctors can also perform surgery together if multiple surgical consoles are connected to each medical team. We can call this metaverse because people far away from each other can gather in one place in a virtual space.
In the medical education and training sector, Korean and foreign content has advanced to a degree where no big problem exists for medical school students.
However, after getting the medical license, they are insufficient to replace the actual training in the actual medical training stage.
Q: Do you mean technological improvements are necessary?
A: It takes a high level of technology to align VR- or AR-based graphics with reality. The related computing technology and performance must work properly to get the right volume rendering – to scan 3D space and reconstruct the scanned data in 3D. Within the next one or two years, these technologies will leap forward.
Q: Some say, despite the significant advancement of the digital healthcare industry, legal restrictions make it difficult to use the technology. The metaverse sector might face regulations, too.
A: As I said earlier, many technologies can be realized within several months if legal issues are resolved. In particular, related institutions are almost nonexistent in medical training and education. Although it is possible to use the technology practically, it is impossible to replace the system with it entirely. Existing evidence-based approval cannot handle the metaverse. Just as the metaverse is new, the evaluation method must be new. Our group’s important role will be proposing related systems or laws in line with technological advancement.