The advent of the Internet 40 years ago and its ensuing innovation continue to revolutionize society as we know it. The Internet’s inception impacted all aspects of our lives, both personally and professionally, cutting across all market segments. We’re now at the next frontier as we stand on the cusp of moving further into a world built by Web3, which promises to further blend the physical and digital. This will require greater integration, more modern standards and protocols and capabilities that give people more control of their digital selves—their identity and representation, what they own and who has access to the data they create. Web3 could help enable the needed standardization, consistency and interoperability and serve as the foundation from which innovations, including the metaverse, can build.
In fact, artificial intelligence combined with augmented and virtual reality is setting the foundations for the metaverse across almost every industry, including healthcare. And, lately, we’ve been hearing more and more about how the metaverse can help address healthcare’s most significant barriers and challenges.
Metaverse technology is touted as being a driver of disruption in healthcare, able to provide better surgical precision, open new channels or treatment, lower costs and improve patient outcomes. In fact, an August 2022 “Healthcare in the Metaverse” report from Market Research Future predicts that “by 2030 the healthcare metaverse market will grow by 48.3 percent CAGR and be worth $5.37 billion,” and 74 percent of those familiar with the metaverse believe it’s the future, according to a Wunderman Thompson March 2022 report titled “Into the Metaverse and Beyond.”
Yet, the metaverse is still in its earliest stages, and we’re watching it take shape in real time. While we can expect early adopters, many believe it will be years before these platforms may be broadly utilized and standard practice. Marketers’ opportunity lies in helping define and educate key audiences about the metaverse, sharing why it could be relevant to care delivery and potentially enhancing traditional methods of the patient experience.
The biggest challenge marketers will face with the advent of Web3 enabling new virtual environments like the metaverse to take shape is how, when and where to reach audiences that are becoming more open to—and comfortable with—these types of innovations entering healthcare. The key is educating people about its potential, demonstrating its value and using the core marketing tenets we’ve all come to understand but applied to these new realms in ways that aren’t off-putting but build trust. The question remains: How far ahead of the pendulum are marketers willing to be to meet providers, payers and patients where they are in their care preferences? But, make no mistake, healthcare organizations—specializing in everything from digital therapeutics to virtual care/telehealth to pharma/biotech to diagnostics—need to start planning today to prepare for metaverse innovations like this in the foreseeable future.
So, what exactly is Web3 and the metaverse? It’s effectively the next version of the Internet—one that will take advantage of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and ever-increasing connectivity (for example, 5G networks) to create online environments that are more immersive, experiential and interactive than what we have today.
Provider, payer or patient—tailoring your experiences to connected but different audiences. While the metaverse will impact everyone in healthcare, providers can anticipate opportunities in almost every aspect of their work. Additionally, they can expect top-down and bottom-up pressure to tap the benefits of Web3 from both payers and patients, respectively.
Providers may start interacting with the metaverse from the very earliest stages of their training. Virtual patients can be simulated in the cloud, allowing them to train on difficult cases they would only otherwise experience on a live patient. Doctors in training might find themselves in simulations, getting an up-close view of a surgeon’s procedure enhanced with tactile haptic controls. Or they might experience interactive training modules that enhance learning key concepts where VR can take a learner within the human body and provide a 360° view of a patient’s ailment.
With surgical procedures already making use of advanced tech like robotics, the metaverse is expected to be an effective tool to help perform complicated surgical procedures and enhance patient care. While adoption may be slow initially, since clinical trials must be performed to ultimately evaluate the metaverse as practical, in nearly every facet of surgery, the metaverse provides many opportunities for the future:
Pharma/biotech and digital therapeutics with Web3. Web3 has the potential to fuel innovation and efficiency in data sharing in ways that will help pharma companies and other vendors improve their commercial insights and optimize their business. Using blockchain technology, Web3 could lead to the democratization of health data.
The metaverse is already showing signs of new opportunities in therapeutic applications. Digital therapeutics are seeing rapid adoption of this form of therapy, where VR and AR tech in the metaverse enables applications such as cognitive therapy, support groups, psychiatric evaluations, rehabilitation and—with the support of haptic sensors—even physical therapy.
Marketers’ opportunity lies in helping define and educate key audiences about the metaverse, sharing why it could be relevant to care delivery and potentially enhancing traditional methods of the patient experience.
Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, expect digital therapeutics that bridge the gap between the physical and digital with real-world results. For example, nurses can meet patients in the metaverse aided with remote monitoring to help perform daily checkups and discussions.
Virtual care in the metaverse. Some aspects of Web3 became part of the patient experience during COVID-19. The adoption of telehealth was greatly expedited and now constitutes a sizeable percentage of patient visits. Providers, healthcare organizations and patients alike are realizing the benefits of virtual healthcare. The metaverse will take things a step further, as patients demand improved access and healthcare organizations look for ways to streamline healthcare delivery. Forbes recently identified three areas that appear to be frontrunners (“Four Practical Ways Healthcare Will Join The Metaverse,” June 13, 2022):
Emerging research indicates that the Web3 and the metaverse will revolutionize healthcare delivery across every aspect and audience and that early adopters will gain an advantage in helping define how it is developed over the next decade. Healthcare marketers should take heed and consider how their current channel, content and overarching PR strategies should evolve to stay relevant in anticipation of the innovations on the horizon.
As you begin to embark on this journey to the center of the metaverse, consider the following:
This article originally appeared on O’Dwyer’s and is featured in the Oct. ’22 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine