Since Facebook (now Meta) started pouring billions of dollars into research and development (R&D) in the metaverse in 2021 (and earlier), the topic has stayed on the minds of experts, investors, and professionals in the tech world. Discussions have cantered around the prospects of the metaverse, potential use cases, its implications for various fields, and regulatory changes that would need to be implemented. Health is one of the most exciting fields for new tech to add value. Professionals have long wondered the impact and implications of making use of the metaverse in healthcare.
In a panel session at Malta Week, key stakeholders and experts discussed the impact of the metaverse on healthcare so far. The panel session was titled ‘The Healthcare Metaverse: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.’ Moderating the session was Philippe Gerwill, a Member of the Advisory Board at DeHealth. He was joined by Amir Bozorgzadeh, CEO & Co-founder at Virtuleap; Valentino Megale, CEO at Softcare Studios; Lucas Perez, CEO at My Health Project; and Livia NG, Founder & CEO at Neuroute.
Philippe Gerwill anchored the session throwing incisive questions at the panellists, who shared deep insights and expert opinions about the topic.
Many people think the metaverse is only related to gaming, and it even has a negative connotation for some people. As someone working in a space that has already proven [to be beneficial], what is your view of how the metaverse will further develop in that space?
Amir: “We can start with the ugly first, then go to the bad, and finally to the good, and that’s really the reality of this sector. I think you have to be kind of a masochist to start a company in a frontier emerging technology like virtual reality and then try to address the most stubborn industry of healthcare, in which there are so many barriers. I mean, you have to be very interested at a very deep level to want to go through all these clinical trials and all these different areas with stakeholders across hospitals and healthcare sectors. But, of course, if your life is meant for that, then you didn’t live without a real cause behind you.”
“Of course, the sector of virtual reality for healthcare – and I say virtual reality because I absolutely abhor the word ‘metaverse.’ I abhor it because the metaverse means an interconnected next generation of the web in which different virtual reality experiences and augmented reality experiences can interconnect seamlessly, and we’re very far from such a world. This word still has some promise, though, and I will say that we have gone through three to four generations, or waves, of the metaverse in its ‘trying to emerge into reality. It hasn’t done so (emerged) yet, but it started with Timothy Leary and Terence McKenneth talking about virtual reality as a digitally embodied medium. It then went to the nineties, when people were doing healthcare in virtual reality. It has come and gone multiple times, and we’re now at a time where this can happen. The thing is, the best and the brightest in the world are in these industries, and that should give us a lot of heart.”
Another point is that the healthcare ecosystem is quite complex with various stakeholders. Why and how will metaverse-related products lead to meaningful outcomes for that environment?
Valentino: “The interesting part is that when introducing new technologies in healthcare – to support patients, for instance – you never support the patients only. You always have some degree of impact on all the other stakeholders within the healthcare [sector]. You cannot move one piece in this big puzzle – the hospital – without impacting all other pieces; it’s a domino effect. So, when you start supporting patients, you finally end up reshaping, sometimes, the work routine of the medical staff. They are interconnected.”
“The work routine of the medical staff is designed not only to tackle the condition or illness but also to manage the behavior of patients resulting from that condition. So, new technologies today allow us to target and change and modify the behavior of patients. And virtual reality is one of these technologies. When we talk about virtual reality and immersive technologies, it’s all about the experience. And so, we can change how patients experience therapy. And so, we can change not just the quality of therapy, we can literally rewrite the work routine of medical staff, and also the logistics and specialized personnel who are involved in medical procedures. Today, technology can do a lot; the real challenge is integrating this technology into traditional processes. It involves educating healthcare personnel, communicating wisely with patients and caregivers.”
Regarding the metaverse in healthcare, the product side is quite important. What are your thoughts about selling and buying healthcare products on the metaverse?
Luca Perez: “So, by experience and by analogy, what is important in this area is the ability to buy, lend, and own property in the metaverse. And we saw that, for example, with Nike. Nike has bought some land in a famous metaverse called Roblox; its competitor, Adidas, has bought land in another metaverse called The Sandbox. The notion of property is very important for this kind of actor to sell and buy digital products and services in the metaverse. And it’s important to understand this current logic of the metaverse.”
“And it will be the same for the healthcare sector; for example, we have a few companies based in this field – healthcare companies such as Amedis – and this type of stakeholder wants to reinforce the presence of their clients in the metaverse. In my opinion, the logic is more focused on marketing and visibility. I would like to say also that in the metaverse, it would be possible also to take some action for NGOs and charities in terms of fundraising. It would be an interesting track to offer some NFTs, and you can sell some virtual goods or products to raise funds. The main goal is visibility, whether it’s a hospital, clinic, or pharmaceutical.”
Catch the full panel below!