The Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) team joined forces with Innovate Carolina last week to host another edition of our popular Happy Hour series. The event took place at the newly opened Innovate Carolina Innovation Hub, the Junction, on historic East Franklin Street in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill and was sponsored by Innovate Carolina, UNC’s university-wide initiative for innovation and entrepreneurship. DHIT and Innovate Carolina were joined by a contingent of Digital Health and tech enthusiasts to rally around another engaging conversation in the chronicles of Digital Health transformation.

The evening began with traditional conversation amongst attendees over Italian natural wine, local NC craft beer, and tasty bites. Programming began with Sheryl Waddell, Director of Economic Development and Innovation Hubs for Innovate Carolina, Co-Chair of the NC Health Innovation District (NCHID) Steering Committee, and sponsor of the evening. Sheryl discussed the newly opened Junction, plans for continued expansion and transformation, and remarked about the NCHID initiative, which is to develop North Carolina’s innovation and digital health capacity to fully leverage the latest technologies and social innovation practices that will make a significant impact on the health and well-being of communities across North Carolina and beyond the state. She was joined on the mic by Digital Health visionary, Paula Kranz who also co-chairs the Steering Committee. 

Our main event was a fireside chat hosted by Cindy Hallberlin, DHIT’s Head of Partnerships and General Counsel. She was joined by our featured speaker Christi Fenison, an immersive storyteller, designer, technologist, and strategist. She is also the Extended Reality (XR) EdTech Lead at UNC School of Medicine IT. During the discussion, Christi spoke about the current trends and future outlook for XR and the metaverse in healthcare. Check out the highlights below.


Christi began by discussing her beginnings and how she was motivated to get into XR design “to create experiences and allow people to step into situations that they may have never been in before.” She explained that, “I developed my first project within my dual degree program from UNC-Chapel Hill, focusing on emerging technologies and storytelling. It was a virtual reality patient-perspective simulation for trauma resuscitation to better allow providers to empathize and relate to the patient experience to enhance care delivery. Consequent to the simulation, it was theorized that providers should be better equipped with communication tools and strategies to enhance the patient experience and outcomes in an already sensitive and scary situation.” She continued that, “the response was overwhelmingly positive with many Emergency Department respondents remarking how clearly the experience was visualized.”

Beyond training simulations, fitness routines, and assistive apps, Christi also commented on the seemingly endless applicability of social VR. “Being able to go into a perspective outside your own, understand a situation better, and be hands-on is so important for people who otherwise might be deprived of those experiences. VR, especially its social application, allows people to access community in a shared and present way without compromising what 2D media like Zoom can’t provide such as spatial audio, allowing multiple conversations, avatars, and communal learning…Whether you are experiencing anxiety, loneliness, or have some affliction that otherwise prevents social gathering, social VR can accommodate basic human needs for connection and collaboration.”

But despite its overwhelmingly positive potential AR/XR/VR is not without its potential risks. Christi commented that “there are risks to all great technological advancements and innovation in general. While resources like ChatGPT are great, it is important for other AI-driven and AR/VR/XR applications to be responsibly developed and purpose-driven. For example, in the metaverse, it could be horribly irresponsible for ad agencies to develop non-player characters (NPCs), which is any character in a game that is not controlled by a real person, that interact with users under the pretense of being real persons but really have a marketing-driven agenda. Currently, innovation is headed in that direction and we as creators and developers must have a larger conversation about not allowing the industry to reach that point and develop products that are developed ethically,  responsibly, and for the good of society.”

When asked about her future, Christi explained, “I am going to continue building simulations and virtual worlds for people to experience. I am looking forward to developments around shared learning and continuing to advance AR/XR/VR within UNC.” 

Amen to that.

Many thanks to Christi for her enlightening conversation about the current and future state of AR/XR/VR, Sheryl and Paula for their passionate dedication to digital health transformation, Innovate Carolina for sponsoring the evening’s program, and our tireless ecosystem of supporters who champion DHIT, the NCHID, and a healthier and wealthier future for all.

Join us for our next Happy Hour event on May 17th in Charlotte, NC during Charlotte Innovation Week at Mito Station, a start-up incubator supporting healthcare innovation in the Charlotte area. 

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Talk soon!