By Charles A. Michelson, AIA, ACHA, LEED AP

Those of us who listen to conversations about the Metaverse and how people are buying houses, art, or John Lennon’s guitar in the virtual world often think “what in the world are people doing to waste their time on this?” Beyond the quirkiness, this is an example of the transformational change where we will interact through virtual reality. And no doubt, some of the most groundbreaking changes will occur in medicine.

You are certainly familiar with telemedicine. But telemedicine is checkers compared to 3-dimensional chess when comparing telemedicine to the metaverse. The metaverse applied to medicine is a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality along with blockchain technology and concepts from social media to create an environment for user interaction mimicking the ideal world.

The technological requirements of digital information transfer can be discussed in another forum. However, from a medical perspective, everything from mental health, chronic pain, dentistry, personalized health, physical therapy, oncology, etc., will eventually be treated in augmented reality, remotely. The use of wearable technology, sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and biometric feedback will become the norm in the not-too-distant future for medical treatment. It can be a win-win for healthcare systems and the public. Technology and artificial intelligence can allow healthcare systems to do more with less, less budget and healthcare workers. Virtual reality will expand access, interaction and patient engagement. The treatments provided can be more accurate and personalized while eventually lowering overhead costs and improve ROI’s.

Virtual reality will allow surgeons to see inside a patient and practice a procedure before even touching that patient. Virtual reality can stimulate and enhance any physical therapy session by curating unique and interesting environments for people to experience while in therapy. Instead of a skilled nursing hallway, a patient using VR goggles will be walking a city street or a path in the Amazon. Occupational therapy will create the appropriate environment without the need to “physically” construct the space.

Mental health and virtual reality is another incredible medical opportunity to enhance treatment. Many virtual opportunities exist. What if anxiety and fear-related disorders could be treated more effectively by placing the patient and therapist in the virtual world to allow patients to regain control over the stressful situations through safe reengagement?

Bringing the conversation back to architecture, by virtue of this technology, how do we reimagine our medical facilities design in the next decade, and where? We are speaking about decentralized healthcare anywhere and at any time; from primary care to significantly chronic treatments. Separate from what will be occurring in healthcare facilities, there will be many medical options where using virtual reality will enable a patient to remain at home. In addition, community medical buildings will eventually include virtual reality spaces — open rooms where patients wear goggles and move around, not much different from a gaming facility.

The ability to bring quality healthcare to a patient and provide the appropriate healthcare to rural and underserved communities through technology is an exciting medical future just on the horizon.

Charles Michelson is President of Saltz Michelson Architects. For more information, visit www.saltzmichelson.com.