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People love trying to pop the metaverse bubble.

Sure, the current experience is glitchy, low-res and inaccessible to all but the most enthusiastic tech fans (the new Meta Quest Pro VR headset, aimed at business users for now, is priced at $1,500).

It’s not yet the next-gen 3D paradise or VR-blockchain party we were all promised, but isn’t that how all of the best technologies started out?

It won’t be an easy journey to reach the metaverse of our dreams. But if and when three key ingredients (great experiences, audience growth and payment systems) come together, the commercial opportunities for businesses could be seismic. It will produce life sciences applications that we’ll soon be wondering how we ever lived without. Here are four ways the metaverse could—eventually—transform healthcare for patients and medical professionals.

1. Remote monitoring; helping people heal at home

People generally heal much faster when recovering at home than in hospital. So NHS England, together with tech start-up Huma, have launched a remote-monitoring service. Patients on 70 virtual wards receive equipment such as pulse oximeters to allow them to take their own vital signs at home. They share this data, plus information about their symptoms, via an app. If there’s any cause for concern, medical professionals can contact them to adjust medication or arrange in-person appointments.

Scaled to the metaverse, this new (remote) world could be the next frontier in post-critical homecare, slashing costs and waiting times while increasing adherence and health outcomes.

2. Digital twins; bringing exact virtual replicas to people wherever they are

Digital twins are real-time digital copies of physical objects that people can interact with in a virtual world. This can be something simple, like a model of a human body, right up to a replica of a hospital building. And this is where I see the most fascinating meta-innovations coming over the next five-years.

Picture this: a group of avatars gathered around a lifesize 3D molecular model. Each avatar represents an eminent drug-design scientist— all based in different countries. In the metaverse, they can run simulations, stress-test models and talk together in real time, improving the speed and cost at which new drugs come to market.

Imagine too, the efficiencies that could flow from creating digital twins of single-use lab and plant designs, or even entire supply chains. Teams could collaborate remotely, and key processes and construction could be planned, 3D visualised and optimised months in advance, before work starts.

3. Mental health; making life-changing treatment accessible to all

The healing power of mindfulness, meditation and therapy could also be delivered via the metaverse. Imagine if—instead of listening to a meditation podcast on a rainy Tuesday morning—you could visit a tropical virtual world and take part in a meditative group practice, with the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

Unlike a real-world session, you could fit hundreds of people into the space, and they would all be able to hear the instructor. Or how about a remote therapy session, in a virtual room—or even a park—where you can meet, avatar to avatar, with your therapist?

Patient support groups could also take place in the metaverse. For example, people with cystic fibrosis can’t meet face-to-face due to the risk of passing on infections—but they could join a virtual group with the only other people that truly understand their experiences. Or perhaps someone who is nervous about their first time joining an addiction or mental health support group might prefer to do so behind an avatar. And if these treatments can be accessed from personal devices instead of via a lengthy, in-person referral route, they become available and helpful to more people.

4. Training and education; enhancing the experiences of future healthcare professionals

Across every sector and specialism, 3D immersive models, demos and practise simulations can improve the learning experience for healthcare professionals. Whether they’re trainee nurses taking their first look around the A&E department, or experienced surgeons getting a demo of the latest medical devices, or even med students on a virtual tour of your nervous system—the education possibilities are endless.

What stands between us and this transformative metaverse?

Of course, there are still some major snags before this impressive futurescape can become our reality. VR headsets and the computing power required to run high-res 3D graphics aren’t cheap. Not everyone can (or wants to) wear a headset for a few minutes, let alone for protracted periods. Perhaps we even need to reconcile ourselves with the fact that many of our metaverse experiences may come via a simple screen.

If these speedbumps are flattened, I cannot wait to see how our ability to connect with people in this way is going to transform healthcare, through experiences limited only by our imaginations.

Mark Ellis

SLS Digital Partner, UK&I, Cognizant

Mark Ellis

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