The Covid-19 pandemic pushed the healthcare industry toward rapid digitalisation, with the rise of telehealth, telepresence systems, remote diagnostics, predictive AI, and wearable technology now changing the way healthcare is delivered and improving patient outcomes.
Emerging technologies such as AR and VR are becoming increasingly routine for professional training, surgical assistance, and treatment for psychological and neurological disorders. For pharma and medical devices, AR, VR, and AI are rapidly accelerating drug discovery, manufacturing, and supply chain efficiencies. However, commercial uptake and affordability remain limiting factors to the widespread adoption of new digital products and opportunities.
Although metaverse technologies show promise to reinvent healthcare approaches and bring new experiences to healthcare providers and patients in the coming years, adoption is still at an early stage.
For example, the metaverse could improve access to care for all patients, regardless of their location. The use of telemedicine surged in popularity during Covid-19, when practitioners found they could efficiently and quickly diagnose many conditions without needing to physically examine patients. While not at the same level at the start of the pandemic, demand for digital solutions to access healthcare services has remained high since.
Telemedicine consultations through VR would allow patients to access the best specialists anywhere, not limited by physical location. Holoportation could potentially allow doctors and patients to share the same virtual space and even allow doctors to examine a patient through a 3D projection.
Patients living in remote regions could be seen by healthcare professionals without having to travel great distances, and access to care for disabled or elderly people could improve significantly.
Virtual pharmacies could allow patients to pick up prescriptions directly from the metaverse, and have their drugs delivered to their real homes. For example, US pharmacy chain CVS has filed to trademark its pharmacy, virtual goods, and health services in the metaverse.
However, remote access to healthcare services in the metaverse would be dependent on access to the necessary equipment. As the metaverse promises to improve access to care for all patients, a lack of access to or the unaffordability of technology will further contribute to the current inequality in the access to healthcare.
Not all patients will have a positive attitude toward receiving treatment online or remotely. Older populations may find it more difficult to adapt and embrace modern technologies. The use of telemedicine and building virtual hospitals bring issues around patient confidentiality. Enhanced security systems will be needed to ensure that patient data is accessible only to specific hospital staff.
The metaverse industry needs to overcome major challenges for healthcare before widespread adoption occurs. Evidence of proven use cases and participation by a critical mass of users is imperative to convince a shift in metaverse investment. The metaverse will require investment and support from healthcare companies if it is to significantly change the landscape of the industry.