Technology has the power to affect all healthcare professions and optometry profoundly is no exception. The metaverse has been making headlines among healthcare professionals and is rapidly gaining acceptance among the public.
Similar to social media and Google, the metaverse has the potential to push healthcare professionals out of their comfort zone and can also lead to great advancements in the quality of care we provide to patients.
What can optometry expect from the metaverse in the coming years? Here is what you need to know.
Overview of the metaverse and Web3
We must first understand the metaverse as a whole. The term ”metaverse,” which is typically associated with “Web3,” is used to describe a platform or network of platforms where the user is in control of their immersive experience. Users can access these platforms through virtual reality goggles or a three-dimensional space via their web browser.
Currently, several platforms offer a metaverse space, including The Omniverse City, Facebook’s Meta, Spatial, and Decentraland. Experts agree that the goal of the metaverse is to have a decentralized but interconnected virtual space that bridges various platforms.
Interoperability has become a key focus of these platforms in an attempt to acknowledge the metaverse as a singular experience for each user where they can freely travel from one platform to another.
The evolution of the metaverse
The term “metaverse” actually comes from a novel by Neal Stephenson called “Snow Crash.” The novel, published in 1992, describes a virtual world where the main character fights a shadowy villain in a virtual world.1 Today, the metaverse consists of immersive experiences that include virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality worlds that can be accessed via a web browser or headset.2,3
“Some metaverse platforms have focused on niche-use cases while others are open to all users.”
The metaverse is constantly growing and evolving; new platforms and innovations allow individuals and industries to explore various events, from concerts to comedy shows and even virtual optical shops.
Recently, the World Economic Forum has launched Defining and Building the Metaverse, a large, multistakeholder effort with two major tracks—Governance and Economic and Social Value Creation.4
The role of artificial intelligence in the metaverse
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already used inside and outside the metaverse for various tasks, including searches.5 Integrated with metaverse environments, AI can help create more realistic metaverse environments and may even play a role in oversight and interaction.
Content creators who will largely contribute to the development of the metaverse are beginning to adopt AI widely. This pivot away from “canned stock photography” is a great opportunity for busy eyecare professionals to begin creating custom content.
AI can also serve to create modules, interact with the public, and even answer questions. Recently, the AI-operated search engine ChatGPT has gained popularity for its ability to answer almost any question, including questions about eyes and vision. Access to chat GPT is free to users who are willing to register for an account with their email and phone number, but a premium version is also available.
Concerns have been raised about the accuracy of AI-based searches and the risk that they will spread misinformation.6 However, tests on ChatGPT showed that it could almost pass the US Medical Licensing Exam; it is not clear how it will do on the National Board of Examiners in Optometry testing.7
Potential applications of the metaverse in optometry
The applications of a world built from human imagination are potentially endless as long as technology keeps up. Potential future applications can allow students to attend virtual training sessions and even perfect their skills via a virtual workshop.
Imagine allowing optometry students and licensed doctors to practice on “virtual patients” in order to learn a new skill or practice different approaches to unique patient types. Implementing patient education with the help of 3-D visual demonstrations in the office or directly from their website will be a game changer for industries such as optometry and optical which have so much information to share with their patients in order to provide the best quality care.
As the metaverse grows, we may see several effects on optometry, including:
1. Metaverse meetings
Since 2020, the number of virtual meetings and conferences has increased, including Eyes on Eyecare’s virtual events, such as Eyes on Dry Eye. In the future, virtual eyecare events may be held in the metaverse. Ophthalmology already hosted its first metaverse meeting in 2022 with good success.8
2. A new way to learn
The development of the metaverse can open up learning opportunities for students and existing eyecare professionals alike.
Courses for optometry students and continuing education for eyecare professionals may soon be conducted in the metaverse in addition to in-person meetings. AI and virtual reality (VR) might even provide for improved training opportunities to ensure that optometrists receive plenty of practice before diving into in-person patient care.
Surgeons are already using VR and AR to perform complex procedures; the technology is slowly making its way into schools and the continuing education space. Likewise, the metaverse allows for the creation of a digital twin, which can be used for practice and testing.9
3. A path toward scope expansion for optometry
Opposition to any scope expansion within optometry has often included a lack of “necessary training.”10 But what if optometrists and optometry students can receive additional training in the metaverse without putting patients at risk?
Virtual training scenarios can potentially decrease the number of live, in-person training hours necessary to refine a clinical skill or technique. Virtual training may also help ophthalmology and optometry come to a consensus, allowing for scope expansion in states where optometrists are restricted from practicing to the fullest scope of their education and national board exams.
4. Metaverse stores
The metaverse can provide a new way for eyecare professionals to interact with patients, including virtual shopping. As the public continues to embrace the metaverse, eyecare professionals will likely be required to incorporate the metaverse as part of their practice’s marketing strategy, just as they have incorporated Google and social media.
Metaverse stores can offer a look at what the store carries and even educate patients about their eyes and the optometric services provided by a given practice.
5. Virtual eyecare in the metaverse
Telehealth continues to gain popularity as a practice model in healthcare, and optometry is no exception. Private practices and corporations who choose to create a metaverse store may soon be able to offer an eye exam in the metaverse with the help of telehealth technology.
In fact, metaverse hospitals are already here; a company from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it would be launching the first-ever metaverse hospital late in 2022.11
6. AI-assisted diagnosis and treatment
Artificial intelligence can potentially help optometrists diagnose and treat patients by providing the most up-to-date, evidence-based treatments. As eyecare is constantly evolving, it can be a challenge for optometrists to stay on top of all of the current research. However, having AI assistance will overcome this challenge and allow for better practices to be implemented.
7. Virtual reality clinical studies
The creation of digital twins will open not only doors for virtual training but also for virtual experimentation. Virtual reality testing can help ensure that a potential medication is safe for human studies, adding an extra layer of protection from animal testing.
In addition to en vivo and en vitro, we may soon have ‘en vr’ to represent studies performed on digital twins in the metaverse. As technology continues to advance, some studies might be performed in the metaverse only, without needing in-person trials. This will help increase accessibility and allow researchers to look at a broader scope of populations.
8. More virtual reality and augmented reality treatments
VR and AR treatments can benefit several areas of optometry, including sports vision, vision therapy, and even low vision. For sports vision and vision therapy, patients can spend time doing virtual modules at home, with the results being sent to their doctor.
VR has the potential to help amblyopes; instead of patching an eye, headsets may be programmed to project only to the amblyopic eye while the child plays a game. Companies like Vivid Vision and Oculus are already offering these solutions to healthcare providers.12
Likewise, there are already headsets that exist for patients with low vision from companies like AceSight, Vision Buddy, and NuEyes. Headsets can provide additional magnification and increased contrast and can even augment reality by projecting an image to a working part of the retina—a useful tool for patients with macular pathology.
9. A new way to try before you buy
Virtual try-on technology has advanced to allow patients to try on everything from glasses and contact lenses to skincare, and consumers are on board.
Virtual try-on is already becoming commonplace in online stores like Zenni and Warby Parker, and the trend will continue in the metaverse.
Factoring in concerns around the metaverse
While the metaverse continues to move forward, there are several concerns.
The potential danger of increased screen time and headsets
One major metaverse concern from an eyecare standpoint is the fact that the effects of spending prolonged periods of time in goggles to enjoy some aspects of the metaverse have not been widely studied in adults or children.
Since the goggles are a digital device, their use will lead to increased screen time in children and adults alike, which could mean a potential increase in eye strain, myopia, and other screen-related problems.
The challenges of telemedicine
While telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular, it is still fairly new, and organizations like the American Optometric Association are working diligently to ensure quality patient care.13
A lag in technology
There is also a concern that technology may not yet be ready for everything that the metaverse could potentially offer. Metaverse Fashion Week, which debuted in the spring of 2022, faced criticism for technical limitations, though the event is already set to return for 2023 with major brand sponsors.14
Some aspects of the metaverse will simply have to wait until technology catches up. However, demand can always help inspire innovation and creation.
Data and privacy concerns with the metaverse
The metaverse relies on data, from personal data such as name and email to financial data used in cryptocurrency. It is important for metaverse users and metaverse creators to be vigilant about their data security.
Rise in negative behaviors online
The metaverse provides a high level of anonymity, but this can also mean a rise in negative behaviors. Just like social media, the metaverse may become a home for “trolls,” pranksters, and even predators.15
Cybersecurity threats in the metaverse
The metaverse is vulnerable to cybersecurity threats just like any online experience.16 It is important for all metaverse users to carefully verify anyone that they deal with—even if their avatar looks fun and harmless.
Accessibility challenges in the metaverse
The metaverse is primarily experienced through a browser or headset. Individuals who don’t have access to the internet and equipment (either headset or computer) or who are nervous about using technology may be left behind.
Likewise, because the metaverse is a highly immersive experience, individuals who are visually or hearing impaired may also find themselves left out if metaverse environments fail to adopt certain accessibility features.
My involvement with the metaverse
I first heard the term “metaverse” from my friend and associate, Charlene Nichols, who is the founder of My Vision Show, The Omniverse City, and The Optical Metaverse. After a fair amount of research and watching Ready Player Me, I was excited to be at the forefront of a major technological development.
While computer programming is not my strong suit, I was able to become involved in beta testing, promotion, and more. Because the metaverse is visual, it only seemed right that eyecare professionals become involved early on to ensure eye-safe development.
Overview of The Optical Metaverse
The Optical Metaverse, which made its debut in the spring of 2022, will allow eyecare professionals to engage among themselves and with their patients on a new level. It will help ensure that eyecare providers remain connected to future generations.
The Optical Metaverse was created specifically to ensure that the eyecare and optical industries are able to enter the Metaverse space in a constructive, welcoming way and to interact with their patients and colleagues in the Web3 space.
Where is The Optical Metaverse?
It is located within The Omniverse City, a virtual space built by Charlene Nichols and her diverse team of creators. The Omniverse City features a variety of spaces, including The Mint, an NFT Art Museum, and an Exhibit Hall for eyecare professionals that’s comparable to walking through a live exhibit at any physical conference and, of course, stores.
Opportunities in The Optical Metaverse
Eyecare providers have a range of opportunities in The Optical Metaverse. Those who wish to embrace Web3 will be able to open virtual stores (yes, I have one in the works), complete with virtual try-on and Web2 integration. Eyecare and vision professionals will also be able to attend events, shop, and learn within The Optical Metaverse.
“Also, eyecare and vision brands have a major opportunity to get involved and interact with their audience and demonstrate their product more effectively in a virtual space.”
Pharmaceutical companies have a huge advantage within the virtual space simply because there is no need for a demonstration of their products. They may find themselves on a more even playing field with other brands thanks to virtual try-on and other virtual enhancements.
Coming soon to The Optical Metaverse
As metaverse technology evolves, so will The Optical Metaverse. There are many things coming in 2023, including store openings, collaboration opportunities, Exhibit Hall expansions, and even patient-facing education from the My Eye Care Team.
There are many ways to get involved with The Optical Metaverse. You can choose to attend an event and simply enjoy exploring the city with your avatar, shop, or even open your own store.
Today’s eyecare providers cannot afford to sit on the sidelines as technology continues to change the healthcare landscape. The metaverse is already here, and with companies embracing virtual experiences, it will likely become commonplace in the near future.
Both private and corporate optometry practice modalities will need to adapt and adopt to connect with the younger, more technologically-savvy generation of patients.