Healthcare leaders are optimistic about metaverse disruption, report says

The metaverse — a domain of the internet in which users immerse themselves in interactive digital environments — has significant potential to disrupt traditional healthcare delivery in the long term, according to a recent report from Accenture

For the report, Accenture surveyed 391 healthcare executives across 10 countries. More than 80% of them said they believe the metaverse will have a positive effect on the healthcare industry.

The metaverse has two primary functions, according to Kaveh Safavi, senior managing director at Accenture Health. The first is the “Internet of Place,” which refers to spaces in the metaverse that will virtually transport users to almost any world they can imagine. Safavi said that this could one day allow people to easily interact with clinicians, peers and enterprises at a distance. 

The second is Web3 or the “Internet of Ownership.” Web3 is an evolving term that the report used to describe the utilization of technologies like blockchain and tokenization to build a more distributed data layer into the internet, allowing data to be owned and validated by metaverse users. Healthcare organizations could shift part of their operations to the metaverse and maintain their own internal virtual environments, Safavi said. This will allow employees to work from anywhere and collaborate based on data that they can authenticate.

“The greatest value of the metaverse in healthcare will depend on the ways in which the ‘Internet of Place’ and the ‘Internet of Ownership’ converge with one another,” Safavi said. “In combination, the two have the power to eliminate the distrust, friction and fragmentation that patients and healthcare workers experience as they cross platforms, care settings and work environments.”

Safavi does not know when the future he described will become a reality, but he said there are practical ways in which he can foresee providers adopting the metaverse. For example, if a physician notices one of their patients is recovering slowly from a basic laparoscopic surgery, they can take their concern to the metaverse and watch a previous abdominal surgery this patient had. The physician can then show the patient the video when explaining that their slow healing time is the result of the scar tissue that formed during the previous surgery.

The patient can also continue to heal in the metaverse after their discharge. For example, their physical therapist can demonstrate exercises in an immersive setting, such as an environment simulating a beach, and they can fast forward to the future to show the patient how they will be moving in six week’s time.

If healthcare companies or health systems want to jump into the metaverse, Safavi said they must ensure they have the foundational social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies to build a complete, interactive digital healthcare ecosystem. He also pointed out they must have the right data.

“This is not just about EMR data,” he said. “It’s the full spectrum of data that represents people, physical items and activity. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations do not have a way to capture data about people and processes.”

Safavi acknowledged the exciting healthcare metaverse applications detailed in the report are unlikely to emerge soon, and a February Rock Health report said the same. It showed that while the metaverse’s integration into healthcare will take time, healthcare leaders are playing the long game and beginning to invest in metaverse technologies — investors funneled $198 million into U.S. startups using virtual or augmented reality for healthcare in 2021, up from $93 million in 2020.

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