Published on Nov 15, 2022
Moving Healthcare to the Metaverse
Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about the metaverse. From Facebook (now Meta!) to gaming, entertainment, socializing, work, and commerce, the metaverse is moving at the speed of light, or that’s how it feels. Healthcare, too, is embracing the adoption of digital technologies. Organizations ranging from hospital chains to fitness companies are now entering into the metaverse space.
What is the metaverse, and how is it impacting current and future healthcare trends?
The metaverse is a combination of physical, augmented, and virtual reality. Accessed via the Internet, metaverse creates a virtual world experience. The metaverse makes use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and improved levels of connectivity—think 5G networks and beyond. It requires the use of three types of technology:
Ultimately, the metaverse is the third generation of the internet, and it is shaping up to be an online environment that’s immersive, experiential, and more interactive than anything we currently have.
Reducing costs while striving to improve patient outcomes are strong motivations for moving healthcare to the metaverse. U.S. national healthcare spending grew by 3.4% in 2021, according to Altarum's monthly Health Sector Economic Indicators (HSEI) briefs. This calculates to almost USD 4.3 trillion, or nearly 20% of the nation’s GDP.
At the same time, the number of Americans with inadequate access to healthcare tops out at around 32 million, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moving to the metaverse can help healthcare institutions deliver better access and more personalized care to greater numbers of patients, regardless of their location.
In addition, AR and VR can enable medical suppliers of every ilk to reach healthcare professionals worldwide. That equates to faster service and delivery, better supply logistics, and, ultimately, lower prices that can be passed on to patients and payers.
Healthcare could move to the metaverse in countless ways. For example, South Korea’s Chosun University Hospital is planning a metaverse clinic to attract foreign and local patients and boost the province’s medical tourism revenue. The site will also offer educational programs for the hospital's foreign medical staff.
A plethora of possibilities exists that we haven’t yet considered. Some opportunities include:
It’s not just in patient care that the metaverse is making inroads. Medical training will become a richer, more participative process, cost less, and require less environmentally-damaging travel. For example, surgical teams can learn new procedures without having to physically be in the same location or even operating on a live patient, according to Accenture’s Digital Health Technology Vision 2022 report.
There’s an old saying that “it takes money to make money.” In the same way, it takes technology to achieve new discoveries, and the metaverse has the potential to lead to breakthrough technologies for healthcare.
According to world-renowned tech expert Bernard Marr, the metaverse has the potential to revolutionize mental health therapies. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists could use the immersive experiences available to treat issues like:
The technology could also increase access to mental health care for disabled people or patients who face financial or geographic barriers to care. For example, XRHealth offers virtual mental health therapy delivered immersively via a VR headset supplied by the provider. Amelia Virtual Care supports both virtual and in-person VR care.
Of course, nothing is without any disadvantages, and this situation is no exception. Potential risks surrounding the move of healthcare to the metaverse include:
Statista lists “addiction to a simulated reality” as the top concern for internet users in 2021, followed by privacy issues and then mental health issues. When it comes to the crunch, noting the benefits and disadvantages won’t stop healthcare from moving to the metaverse, but it does give organizations a base from which to plan their progress.
When we consider that in 2021, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins performed live surgery using an AR headset to give the surgeon an interactive display of the patient’s internal anatomy, it becomes clear that the sky is not even the limit for humanity, if we can harness this technology effectively.
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