Healthcare in the Metaverse Part One: Potential Impact on Patients and Providers

May 3, 2022

fluid red and blue lines fluid red and blue lines

by Kevin Killian, Copywriter, with Joe Doyle, EVP Digital Health

The metaverse is coming, and in many ways, it’s already here.

Does that scare you? Confuse you? Excite you? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to do some digging. In part one of this two-part series, we’ll begin by attempting to pin one definition to this still relatively fluid concept. The term “metaverse” refers to a network of virtual worlds focused on social connection. Its current components include gaming experiences, like “Fortnite” and “Roblox,” virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).

While these elements each make up parts of the metaverse, the true intended definition involves connecting all of them in one continuous, virtual, 3D experience, where users can inhabit and move between spaces all while using the same “avatar,” or online version of themselves. How long it will take us to get there—or if we ever will—remains up for debate, but it’s certainly not too soon for brands to get involved.

The metaverse fosters an immersive environment where brands can engage with consumers in ways they may never be able to in the real world. And just because people don’t use a physical product in the metaverse doesn’t mean associated brands should stay on the sidelines. Think no one is interested in driving a virtual Ferrari around? Does a digital pair of Nikes sound far-fetched? Guess again.

So much of what the metaverse offers can help brands drive awareness—and then affinity. And perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the field of healthcare.

The Virtual Healthcare Journey

Any time we think about engagement with patients, we think of it along the process of the patient journey, whereby they progress from awareness to understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and, hopefully, advocacy. It’s intriguing to think about how each of these steps could play out in the metaverse, where patients might be able drop into clinics, hospitals, and research experiments in ways they currently can’t. Let’s consider further.

  • Awareness: A patient who becomes aware of their symptoms visits an HCP in the metaverse as an avatar. To provide more empathetic, intimate care, the virtual clinic gives the doctor an avatar that reflects the patient’s, helping the patient feel more comfortable and encouraging them to speak openly and honestly about their condition, and helping the doctor by implicitly eliminating any subconscious biases they may have.
  • Understanding: To better understand what may be causing the symptoms and whether anything can or should be done to combat them, the doctor and patient examine a virtual, immersive depiction of an “inside view,” looking at both what might be happening in the patient’s body and how they could respond to different treatments.
  • Diagnosis: Support upon diagnosis could be carried out virtually, too, with private online conversations between patients and HCPs about managing their condition and financial help. Additionally, patients could meet virtually with support groups.
  • Treatment: As in current closed networks such as Sermo or Doximity, in the metaverse, doctors could potentially meet and discuss specific de-identified cases and patient needs in one-on-one settings in virtual worlds. Additionally, pharma company medical science liaisons (MSLs) can enter doctors’ virtual offices to answer any science-based questions they may have.
  • Advocacy: Proficient virtual world users can provide community-based support in the metaverse; this community just happens to have to the potential to span the globe. Hopefully, the metaverse will allow patients to advocate for themselves—and each other—in a much easier way.

Of course, patients won’t be the only people frequenting this new online world. Another key group will be exploring early and often that will help brands tell their story in the metaverse—journalists. Coverage of the metaverse in all its forms has already begun, amplified by moves like Facebook’s recent rebrand to “Meta.” As reporters stay on the cutting edge and start to think about how the metaverse will influence health, the brands who are able to join it first gain the most earned exposure. Being perceived as an early adopter will have a long-lasting halo-effect.

So, how does the healthcare industry get there? By getting started today. In part two of this series, we’ll examine steps you can take to prepare—and even participate—right now.

Continue to part two of the series.