Remember the phrase “the doctor will see you now”? As we move towards a future where the metaverse is more prominent reality for brands and people, it got us thinking: how will healthcare work in an immersive Web 3.0 world? 

Will the doctor still see us now, or will they see us… whenever? Where will they see us? And while we’re at it… how?

As the providers of digital humans in the healthcare industry, we’re as curious as anyone.

There’s now little doubt the mass adoption of the metaverse will affect all of us – as people, patients or health professionals. So we excitedly posed the question to four experts.

What will healthcare look like in the metaverse?

1. An inclusive future we all deserve – Ling Huang from Technology North

Technology North is at the forefront of inclusive technology solutions that improve the lives of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). President and CEO Ling Huang believes now’s the time to make sure what we build today helps to serve everyone equally.

“Though the idealized metaverse — a singular, monolithic world that combines the digital and real — may still be in its infancy, we can take advantage of its technologies and prepare for trouble to come, right now.

“Healthcare is going digital. But these benefits are only available to those who can interface with it. To those with developmental disabilities like ASD, they’ll need a specialized interface to help connect them to the rest of us; assistive technology that will give them access to tomorrow’s digital economy; accessible and customizable healthcare according to their needs; along with independence and happiness — the same future we all deserve.”

2. Opening the doors of innovation – Janine Salerno from Atlantis Healthcare

Healthcare and innovation can often make strange bedfellows. However, Janine Salerno, Digital Creative Director at Atlantis Health, believes there’s a real need to begin opening the metaverse doors, starting with a little help from some digital friends…

“The healthcare and pharmaceutical industry can be a very challenging space when it comes to pushing innovation. Yet what living through COVID has taught us is that virtual communications are an intricate part of the healthcare space.

“At Atlantis Health, we recognized very quickly that the metaverse is going to be a world that we’re not going to be able to live without. That’s why we’re getting ready to launch our first digital human for a major pharmaceutical brand in the US – and in doing so are starting to support our patients, caregivers and even physicians with opportunities never seen before.

“It can be as small as product education, or a personal coach who’s there to navigate a patient or caregiver through their treatment journey, every step of the way. Crucially, we’re informing our digital human with a behavioral science approach, and as a result making technology that might be scary to use for some as easy as possible.

“Because we feel very strongly here that the benefits the metaverse offer are simply amazing.”

3. It means an explosion of innovation – Mark Kozak from Maya MD

It may be a little way off, but the metaverse will bring a huge and varied amount of positive disruption to the sector. So says Mark Kozak, Co-founder of MayaMD – a UneeQ client that has been doing excellent work running peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of digital human applications in healthcare. However, Mark rightly believes the impact of healthcare in the metaverse expands far beyond one technology, and that communication is key.

“The metaverse will have a huge impact on improving healthcare, and it’s very exciting. And I think it’s still a little ways out. 

“It’s going to be able to bring together all the stakeholders – whether they’re patients, clinicians, the insurance companies, the educators – they’re all going to be brought together in a social network so people can communicate more seamlessly. 

“The true metaverse also incorporates virtual reality (VR), and that’s going to have a big impact on how care is delivered. Any of these kinds of platforms help engagement, and that’s the first step towards improving communication. With communication you have better information exchange between the patient and the provider. Tools that do that are going to effectively improve quality of care, it’s going to improve efficiency and it’ll allow people who are in developing nations to receive access to greater levels of care.”

4. Unshackling healthcare from the physical realm – Danny Tomsett from UneeQ

With so much change in recent years after the pandemic, could now be a good time for patients to benefit from decentralized, in-home additions to healthcare services? Our Founder and CEO Danny Tomsett unpacks the opportunity a little:

“Healthcare is such a big part of everyone’s lives, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the healthcare industry looks to emerging technologies in the metaverse and Web 3.0 to help solve some really challenging problems. 

“The physical centralization of healthcare was tested in the pandemic and shown to be very problematic. The industry is now focused on decentralization – things like in-home care – and I believe the metaverse will present an interesting channel to solve for the accessibility and scalability that’s needed. 

“The nature of the metaverse is that it’s not limited to time and location like the physical world, but it can support both AI-powered and human-controlled experts and avatars that people can interact with in a safe atmosphere. I think it’s pretty exciting to think about where that can go.”

What’s the point of healthcare in the metaverse?

It may surprise you to know that people are already picturing themselves receiving health support in the metaverse. Almost half (47%) of US consumers say they’d be interested in attending a telehealth appointment in the metaverse within the next five years, according to McKinsey. The only activity that rates higher? Shopping, with 48% of people.

It’s a surprisingly high number, considering how early the metaverse is into its tech lifecycle and the general public’s lexicon. What it offers, though, is promising: immersion, interactivity and personalized care at scale. 

In the metaverse, as we’ve seen with telehealth, there are advantages around patients not having to travel to see their doctor, nurse or other health specialist. Metaverse spaces, in time, can simulate much of the patient experience (at least in non-urgent scenarios) without requiring patients to travel to their appointments.

It makes certain types of medical attention easier to receive – with the same level of service for those in remote areas as those in major cities. And it may also improve productivity for healthcare practitioners themselves, giving them more time for more important, life-saving tasks. In the process, it could even help to control healthcare worker burnout.

Then there’s the opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI) to fill some of the gaps in today’s healthcare provisions. Various studies – covered in this infographic – show the potential and predicted value of AI in healthcare. By 2026, AI will hopefully cover 20% of unmet demand for clinicians, at which point it’s predicted to have created $150 billion in cost savings.

Digital humans, as one example of healthcare AI tech, can take the form of personal AI dieticians, post-op coaches and guides to support healthier lifestyle choices. Seeing a digital human in the metaverse offers a level of care and attention more akin to seeing a specialist in real life, except it’s fully automated. In fact, patients have been found to create a therapeutic alliance with such non-human avatars.

When we look at things like adherence to prescriptions, for instance, there are more engaging scenarios that can be created in digital realms. The metaverse can house educational spaces or virtual coaching environments that let people find out more about their medicine, prescriptions, diet, routines and other nuanced topics. Already today, these can be interactive, personalized and more visual than scrolling through a webpage, with the ultimate goal being to improve people’s day-to-day health. It’s something that’s just not possible in the physical world.

So are we ready for a healthcare metaverse?

We’ve seen that around half of US consumers are already on board and interested in seeing their doctor or nurse in the metaverse within the next five years. So are healthcare providers equipped to give people what they want?

In some ways, yes. Before 2020, just 43% of healthcare facilities had the ability to provide treatment remotely to patients. That figure today stands at 95%.

When it comes to providing those personal but automated AI experiences, the answer is also positive. Chatbots, digital humans and other AI health assistants are not only in the market today, but more and more studies are showing their value – in healthcare industries and other sectors.

And there’s a convergence of other technologies making a highly functional metaverse very possibile – from digital twins, blockchains, VR and augmented reality devices. Exploring each of these would be worthy of various articles on their own!

It’s a positive time to be looking into the future of healthcare. But the industry and society at large needs innovators able to see that future and help us move closer towards it – to push open the doors to the metaverse for everyone to walk through. 

Hopefully by making smart choices today, experimenting with new technologies and all the time remembering what makes us human, pioneers in the industry are now able to do that. Because ultimately it’ll benefit us all – as a patient or a professional in the health sector.