Innovation Institute hosts country’s first metahealth symposium, Feb. 28

Written by 

rep metahealth symposium flyer 1280pxThe Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation, established in 2021, has a goal of “futurizing health care,” in the words of Executive Director Rubin Pillay, M.D., Ph.D. It launched with three focus areas: digital health, AI and big data, and the metaverse — the clinical and educational possibilities of immersive digital worlds experienced through a virtual reality or augmented reality headset.

On Feb. 28, the institute will host a Metahealth Symposium (register here), the first in the United States on this topic and apparently the first worldwide to be held both in person and in the metaverse. All presenters will deliver their talks simultaneously to a live audience and — as digital avatars — through the Beame platform, visible on any virtual reality headset, the Beame smartphone app, or a laptop or desktop computer.

“The future is going to be anchored in the metaverse,” said Pillay, who also is assistant dean for Global Health Innovation in the Heersink School of Medicine and chief innovation officer for the UAB Health System. “It has the potential to disrupt how we educate our medical students and our patients, it has already shown that it is extremely valuable as a therapeutic in treating patients with phobias and post-surgery as a substitute for opioid treatment, and it could also be used as a channel to deliver care. UAB needs to be a leader in this space, and we are.”

"The future is going to be anchored in the metaverse.... UAB needs to be a leader in this space, and we are.”

The symposium will include presentations from UAB physicians in the departments of Radiology and Neurosurgery who will discuss how they are using the metaverse to train residents and educate patients. Dorothy Ogdon, associate professor and head of Emerging Technology and System Development for UAB Libraries, will share how she is assisting university faculty, staff and students in learning about and using virtual and mixed reality technologies and define how these terms are used at UAB and in other contexts.

There also will be a presentation from Help Lightning, a UAB spinoff company now located at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot tech incubator that provides augmented reality-enabled remote visual assistance to more than 200 customers in more than 90 countries. “They will highlight how mixed reality is expediting services, empowering employees and lowering costs,” said Jose Flores, associate director of Innovation for the Heersink Innovation Institute. “We think it is important to highlight businesses that are making use of this technology today. This is not just something coming in the future.”

The Metahealth Symposium follows a “very successful” AI in Medicine Symposium last fall, Pillay said. In the coming months, the Heersink Institute will host its inaugural symposium on digital health, with subsequent events focusing on new aspects of AI, metahealth and digital health in a regular cycle.

In addition to the symposia, which are open to a general audience, Pillay, Flores and the Heersink Innovation Institute team have started a series of workshops for university leadership on technology trends and applications. “That is part of the function of the institute — to socialize these ideas to our UAB community, to educate and make these concepts a part of our culture,” Pillay said.