Last fall, Facebook’s decision to rebrand itself as “Meta” spurred many people to think about the metaverse — a term that continues to defy easy explanation or common understanding, particularly in health care.
In simple terms, the metaverse is the realm of computer-generated, networked, extended reality that embraces all aspects of augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality, notes a recent Pew Research Center report. Think of it as the next evolution of the internet.
The thinking goes that augmented- and mixed-reality enhancements will become more useful in everyday life and have broad applications in the worlds of business, education, health care and more. With this promise will come many of the same challenges of today’s high-tech world.
The Metaverse’s Primary Functions, Value
The metaverse has two primary functions, according to Accenture leaders in the report “Accenture Digital Health Technology Vision 2022.” The first is internet of place, which enables users to move beyond browsing to inhabiting and/or participating in a shared experience that spans from the real world to fully virtual and in between. This could allow patients to interact easily with clinicians, peers and others at a distance.
The second is Web3 or internet of ownership. Web3 refers to emerging initiatives that use technologies like blockchain and tokenization to build a more distributed data layer into the internet where data can be owned and validated by metaverse users.
Health care organizations could move part of their operations to the metaverse while maintaining their own virtual environments. This would allow employees to work from anywhere and collaborate based on data they can authenticate, said Kaveh Safavi, M.D., Accenture Health senior managing director, in a recent interview.
The metaverse’s greatest value in health care will depend on the ways in which the internet of place and ownership converge. Combined, the two have the power to eliminate the distrust, friction and fragmentation that patients and health care professionals experience as they cross platforms, care settings and work environments, Safavi says.
Framing Your Organization’s Future in the Metaverse
The build-out of the metaverse will take time, a decade or more. But in the process, it will impact most businesses and industries. Metaverse proponents believe health care leaders should prepare now for inevitable changes.
It’s important to note, however, that the metaverse presents a variety of potential challenges — from providing equitable access to technology to keeping patient data secure and ensuring the safety of patients as they explore care in new realms on their own terms and on their own time. As we enter this new era, it will be critical to have the right governance in place. This will ensure that enthusiasm for the potential will not come at the expense of caution and care for the human at the center of the experience.
Only with a high-performing digital core can health care organizations be prepared to participate in or build the next evolution of the internet, notes Rich Birhanzel, senior managing director of Accenture’s global health practice. In the consultancy’s “Digital Health Technology Survey 2022,” Birhanzel encourages health care executives to ask foundational questions like:
- What will be my organization’s role in this new continuum?
- What is my vision for succeeding in these future worlds while delivering equitable, accessible care to all?
4 Practical Ways to Advance in the Metaverse
Wondering how health care will function in the metaverse? A.J. Ghergich, president and chief technology officer of Brado, a health care marketing firm, recently offered these scenarios.
1 | Get in the game.
The role of gaming will persist in the metaverse. Prompts, rewards and collective competitions will begin to crack the nut of compliance, motivation and behavioral change to help achieve better population health.
2 | Provide kinder, gentler mental health care.
Mental health apps are already proliferating on the internet. Better personal presence and reliable social connections will combine with data and intelligence to make the metaverse a kinder, gentler place — with therapeutic results.
3 | Deliver physical therapy more efficiently.
Rehabilitative medicine and physical therapy (PT) are helping patients live longer, deal with chronic conditions more effectively and limit hospitalizations. If physical therapists continue to chip away at obstacles related to cost and access in the metaverse, they will boost the efficiency and effectiveness of PT.
4 | Provide an integrated approach to weight loss.
Inactivity, lifestyle habits and other factors drive the public health threat of obesity. An integrated approach to weight loss in the metaverse, combining personal data, social reinforcement, positive psychology and a regimen of physical exertion can help patients achieve positive results.