Meeting about extended reality in extended reality by Conor O’Brien

Feb 7, 2023 | News

After a few minutes of technical challenges signing into the free AltSpace meeting software, I finally managed to enter an expansive field surrounded by a forest with large superstructures stretching across the skyline. Giraffes and elephants were grazing nearby, and the treetops looked like fruit loops. This was my first experience attending a meeting in extended reality and perhaps the first of its kind at Mass General Brigham.

The monthly NextUp meeting series hosted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital Digital Innovation Hub (iHub) team aims to focus on new areas of innovation, such as extended reality. Extended reality (XR) is a universal term inclusive of immersive learning technologies, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).

Like several other attendees, I was not equipped with a standard VR headset and hand controllers, which would have enabled a more immersive 3D meeting experience.  After getting a sense of how to navigate, I quickly began to ponder the incredible prospects of what this technology might offer.

I followed a set of arrows down a path to the presentation area where Mark Zhang, DO, iHub Medical Director, was giving a talk and presenting his slides on a vast outdoor video screen. Mark’s avatar gestured next to the screen as he spoke. I gathered with the other attendees near the bleachers and wondered how some avatars had managed to sit down. The avatars, which took only a minute to construct, looked sporty and young, and I had to click on their ID badges to recognize some attendees. Although the layout felt much like a large auditorium, the visual cues that you were outdoors in an ample space dramatically changed the experience’s quality.

About 15 minutes into the talk, I decided to explore the grounds, and although the presentation screen went out of view, I could still hear the speaker. I found a scientific paper suspended in front of some purple mountains. The paper compared the use of VR training in nurses versus standard training methods. The results were strikingly in favor of VR, and reading about VR science while in VR seemed surreal. As I strolled back to the talk, I was struck by the myriad of ways we may leverage this incredible technology in healthcare on both the clinical and administrative ends.

This experience felt like a gamification of my workday, but it did not trivialize the topics we were focusing on. In fact, quite the opposite, I felt more engaged, and a headset and more immersive gear would only enhance this further. Given the new post-Covid realities and the awareness that the team I manage will likely remain hybrid, I wondered: Could this be a key office tool in the future?

Something exciting happened at the end of this XR meeting, which rarely occurs on Teams or Zoom platforms. A staff member from another hospital and I hung out and had some unstructured time chatting and getting to know each other – a seminal water cooler event. Afterward, we engaged in a small project together, which would otherwise never transpire.

It struck me that XR is a learning platform that has potential applications in healthcare and could become an effective tool to engage employees working remotely. With a keen focus on innovation in healthcare, we can also leverage these technologies to improve communication, enhance collaboration and creativity and boost productivity for our employees while creating opportunities to conduct clinical research endeavors in new and exciting ways.

If you want to learn more about XR and its current use in healthcare, please join us at the CIDH Digital Health Journal Club on March 7th at 12 noon. Conor O’Brien, Program Manager at CIDH, will present and lead a discussion on a 2022 paper entitled: A data‐centric artificial intelligent and extended reality technology in smart healthcare systems. For this Journal Club, we will join forces with the iHub team and combine our March meeting to include both Microsoft Teams and an XR platform. If you want to learn more about NextUp or attend a CIDH Journal Club meeting, please email Eric Eberl, Clinical Research Coordinator at CIDH, EEBERL@mgh.harvard.edu, for more information.

Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare

Founded in 2018, CIDH serves as a catalyst to promote the entrepreneurial and research-minded digital health ecosystem at Massachusetts General Hospital. It provides operational and advisory support to internal innovators and outside industries seeking to collaborate on digital health initiatives.