There have been whispers about the “metaverse” going around for years now. Rumors of whether or not it will be the next big thing in technology and if it will disrupt industries while it emerges continues to be the talk in the healthcare market. What many healthcare facilities managers might not realize is that the implementation of the metaverse has already begun, and for the most part, has gone largely unnoticed.
“A healthcare environment equipped with the right technology can improve processes, experiences and outcomes for every individual, from facilities managers to surgeons and patients,” says Erin MacDannald, CEO of Environments. “Some leading healthcare facilities have already seen this come to fruition. From the digital twin and augmented reality to the metaverse, there are so many ways that IoT-enabled technology can offer new techniques.
“The metaverse and digital twin environments can improve daily work functions for healthcare administrators, nurses, custodial staff and beyond with the ability to locate equipment and team members seamlessly. Surgeons can use the technology to practice and complete procedures; facilities managers can monitor occupancy and security. With a tighter squeeze than ever on healthcare resources — both human and not — smart technology may be an answer to helping alleviate this pressure moving forward.”
Telehealth helps create flexibility for healthcare employees and patients alike. It allows for patient accessibility, which helps promote healing within the comfort of their own home instead of having to exposing themselves to transmissible viruses every time they need a checkup.
Meanwhile, digital twins and metaverse environments can transform every level of an organization. Within the healthcare industry there is a constant need for innovative technologies. Digital and hybrid environments have the opportunity to enrich the abilities and experiences of patients and professionals.
“COVID-19 shifted the healthcare industry as we know it. Many workers experienced burnout and left the industry, resulting in a severe talent shortage,” MacDannald says. “With many people looking for more flexible employment opportunities, the natural next step is to determine ways healthcare workers can have the flexibility to work remotely while delivering the same level of care. The metaverse opens up opportunities for this immensely.”
There is still a hesitation when it comes to new technologies. There is always the speculation that technological advances will replace human employees. In fact, they can improve their daily work life. Staff will only want to use the technology if they understand its benefits and the way it contributes to the larger picture. Having transparent and information training sessions is vital to implementing these services within a healthcare environment.
“The onboarding process should involve designing assets and playbooks to introduce virtual workspaces to staff, leadership teams, and other stakeholders,” MacDannald says. “Leaders should take special care to understand the concerns of hesitant employees to build on our organization-wide mutual trust. It will also be important to remove the stereotypes associated with the metaverse, as staff should enter their digital environments with an open and curious mind.”
The metaverse and digital twins already have affected the way hospitals and other healthcare facilities address renovations. These new technologies can offer 3-D renderings of a building that showcase its full potential. This advance allows clients to be immersed in the project from the beginning. Experiencing a virtual representation of an already-familiar physical space can spark a meaningful connection within someone’s mind. Digital twins and metaverse environments offer that opportunity.
“In the case of Environments’ own metaverse platform, we find that both employees and guests are immediately delighted to explore our digital space,” MacDannald says. “Something special happens when you see that same chandelier welcoming you into the lobby, when you can walk right up to the supply closet to check stock, and when you can walk past your coworkers holding a meeting in the conference room.
“Working in the opposite direction, visitors who have had the chance to explore your digital twin feel that same sense of familiarity and delight when they walk into your physical space. I can see that sense of knowledge and comfort being quite powerful for new patients if their doctor’s offices and treatment facilities were first explorable through an experience like a virtual tour.”
In order to thrive, the metaverse needs future-ready buildings, and many healthcare facilities are still lagging. MacDannald says many healthcare facilities still use BACnet software, which limits the technology that can be used. If new facilities use API, they can integrate the Internet of Things, metaverse and more. For example, BACnet technology can tell the lights to turn on, but API can say, “Set the lights to mimic the sun at noon.”
“Digital twins and metaverse environments can reach and positively transform every level of an organization,” MacDannald says. “In a field such as healthcare, where development is constant and outcomes matter, digital and hybrid environments could enrich the abilities and experiences and of both patients and professionals.”
Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market.