Exploring the potential of the metaverse in healthcare

exploring metaverse

Immersive experiences have been tested and used extensively in an array of industries and sectors over the past couple of years. Indeed, our recent report, ‘Total immersion: How immersive experiences and the metaverse benefit customer experience and operations’, indicated that many consumers already experience a sense of familiarity with immersive technologies – with almost two thirds (64%) claiming to be familiar with mobile and PC based experiences, while over a third (39%) felt acquainted with headset-based experiences. 

Although the most scalable progress to date has been made in the retail sector, healthcare is not far behind. Our report saw that more than half (57%) of the consumers believed that immersive experiences could be impactful and valuable to the life sciences and healthcare sector. They are being proven right, with these innovative technologies bringing to life new use cases and possibilities ranging from surgery simulation to training. 

But why are these existing use cases so impactful and where can these technologies go in the future?

Training healthcare professionals

Using simulation and immersive techniques has already revolutionised the way we learn at large, but now it is making waves in the healthcare education sector. When compared to current online or classroom models, immersive training has been shown to enhance both retention and comprehension, with studies of mixed reality (MR) medical training recording an improved efficiency in medical students by 60%.

Immersive technologies like AR, VR, and MR can play a more significant role in allowing students to hone their skills and knowledge in a non-judgmental, low-consequence environment, without the requirement for significant resources. Using tools like wearable headsets, students could learn via 3D renditions of the human body, improving point-navigation accuracy by as much as 50%. 

Meanwhile, immersive technologies also allow instructors to develop a deeper understanding of their students’ patient care. They can create different scenarios, change the way a patient reacts, introduce complications, and record observations to use in further discussions. VR training has, in fact, improved overall surgical performance by 230%, when compared to traditional training methods.

Today, most immersive pilot schemes are built around educating staff with a mix of VR and MR technologies, but even these aren’t currently widespread. The real question organisations need to answer is – how can the healthcare sector start to build greater experiences for its patients as well as its staff?

Unlocking the potential of the metaverse in life sciences

While today’s healthcare organisations understand the need to evolve their use of technologies like the metaverse as they mature, there is still some way to go to prepare themselves internally and ensure these technologies can become more pervasive. According to our report, the appetite for the metaverse is growing, with 95% of adult consumers acknowledging that they are curious about the technology, despite not having extensively engaged with it in its current form.

Using this curiosity to support the early adoption of metaverse initiatives could go a long way towards helping healthcare make immersive technology more mainstream. Some of the major gaps that the sector needs to fill before achieving this include upskilling healthcare professionals to use such technologies, as well as preparing meaningful use cases within the metaverse. 

We’ve seen some use cases gaining acceptance due to constraints raised during COVID. These include digital twins in manufacturing, physician engagement in virtual settings, patient engagement with wearable devices to monitor treatment efficacy, and decentralised clinical trials. However, these are technologies that companies are still investing in and are neither widespread nor conventional yet. 

How can the healthcare sector create immersive experiences at scale?

Answering this question is a challenge of both attitude and practicality. Nearly 40% of organisations are looking at immersive technology initiatives as one-off projects, rather than for more permanent adoption. In part, this is because moving beyond pilot projects and scaling across the organisation is still a major obstruction. Most organisations that fail to implement immersive experiences and metaverse solutions do so due to challenges faced during the initial stages. Over half (56%) claim this is due to the lack of a clear vision and road map, while 60% attribute it to immature technologies, and 62% cite a lack of commitment to immersive initiatives. Moreover, a lack of streamlined technology platforms to deliver this service, clear regulations from regulatory bodies, and the inability to securely manage the explosion of data in an efficient manner, all add to the barriers to adopting the technology. 

However, there is a way forward. The foundational elements for transformation in healthcare and pharma through increased cloud adoption and interoperable systems are already taking place. We believe that the metaverse, alongside AI and quantum computing, will be the key accelerators to unlocking immersive technology adoption at scale. While solutions for the regulatory, privacy, and technology constraints continue to be sought, there are already scalable solutions that healthcare organisations can start considering. 

For instance, when patients undergo surgery, a VR solution can be offered to them in combination with a nerve block. This not only ensures a reduction in the pain caused during the surgery, but more importantly, also reduces the preoperative anxiety, especially in children. Additionally, the technology can help avoid risks caused by nausea or an allergic reaction to anaesthetics and can eliminate the grogginess felt throughout the day post-surgery. 

With consumers curious, but wary, about fully immersing themselves in new experiences, healthcare organisations are taking a cautious approach to their entry into the metaverse. And they need to be aware of the trip hazards they face in that approach. Ethical and data safety issues must also be properly considered, as 76% of consumers raised concerns over data collection and privacy. Moderating the metaverse will require organisations to address privacy and data related issues right from the pilot stages of any project’s design.

Out of all the various sectors currently benefiting from immersive experiences, the healthcare sector stands to gain significantly if it can get it right – benefitting both the operator (e.g., a healthcare professional), and the consumers (i.e., patients). However, the healthcare sector must change their thinking from short-term activation to long-term, building pilots with scalability in mind to unlock the true potential of immersive experiences.

About the author

Rob PearsRob Pears, VP, is head of Automotive, Manufacturing, and Life Sciences at Capgemini UK. He takes the challenges across these sectors and advises his colleagues within the industry on how to identify, implement, and successfully run technologies and services that transform business performance. Pears focuses on those areas that optimise safe, secure digital acceleration, and value realisation.

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23 March, 2023