What Healthcare Can Learn From… The Metaverse

The exact definition of the Metaverse keeps changing continuously. Metaverse isn’t there yet, but tech giants like Facebook, or Meta, Microsoft, Apple, and Google are pouring a lot of money into its development. The Metaverse is believed to represent an $800 billion market by 2024.

In fact, it can be compared to the Internet in the nineties of the last century. That was an information superhighway where information could be searched on various websites through a search engine. We had no idea then where the Internet would develop to where we are now with social media, web stores, and sites like Wikipedia and Flitsmeister. We may be in a similar position to the Metaverse right now.

Many experts consider the Metaverse to be a three-dimensional model of the Internet. A parallel universe, where you spend your digital life. A place where you see yourself as you want by a character created by you, a so-called avatar, who interacts with other avatars, shops, theaters, actually with the whole environment, just like in real life.

Metaverse and Second Life

A good comparison can be made with the virtual world of Second Life. Perhaps you can still remember this hype around this ‘game’ in 2007? A world where you can walk around with your personalized avatar and interact with other people and play games. You could buy a piece of land and build a house on it. You could then sell it back and exchange the money you made for real dollars. Multinationals like Coca-Cola, Nike and Philips even opened offices there.

Today, there are similar virtual worlds that have evolved much further. Roblox for example. From time to time you can also find me there with my avatar to play adventure games together with my children. So much fun sitting next to each other on the couch and suddenly seeing a classmate go online from their own home. Tens of millions of players around the world play the game every day and in the US more than half of all children under the age of 16 play this game. And there are more such platforms like Fortnite, World of Warcraft and Minecraft.

Connected virtual worlds

For the Metaverse, you would have to imagine a connection between all those virtual worlds. Where you go from one to another with the same avatar, wearing the same clothes and carrying the same virtual attributes that you bought with the cryptocurrencies that are accepted everywhere. Without physically changing places.

You can then meet other people there in a world that resembles the real world. New technologies like Virtual and Augmented Reality goggles help with that, which really makes you feel like you’re there with other people. And it goes beyond playing. Also, for example, going to a virtual concert together, like the concerts that are already taking place in Fortnite. And the first meeting tools in the Metaverse are now available, like Meta’s Horizon Workrooms, where everyone connects from their own workplace in the same virtual meeting room.

Useful for health care?

During the corona crisis, we started to do much more online. We have noticed that many things are possible, but also that knowing each other physically is really different. The Metaverse could make these differences much smaller or maybe even make them disappear. In other words: that meeting or going somewhere through the Metaverse is not inferior to going there physically.

Imagine what this lowering of the threshold can do to combat loneliness because someone who can’t leave their house can ‘really’ meet people! And as you know, there is ample scientific evidence of the negative effects of loneliness on mental and physical health.

Because there are virtual worlds in the Metaverse, possibilities arise that are not available in the physical world. For example, a care provider can quickly get to people’s “homes” without having to physically move. What about group treatments? Everyone can effortlessly come together for treatment. In theory, all of that could work very well.

Could this address the future problems of an aging population and increased demand for health care, on the one hand, and a shortage of health professionals, on the other? Time will tell, but let’s go into it with an open mind. Learn about the possibilities that come with the Metaverse and think actively. I believe that better working solutions for health care will only be found if we continue to look and think along with our substantive health care glasses!

Thanks to Bart Collet for thinking and his valuable input!

Also read articles by Bart Collet and Gabriëlle Speijer on the Metaverse and the health sector appearing in ICT&health 3 (June 17).

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