President and CTO of Brado, overseeing the company’s digital marketing, data science and NLP technology.
The metaverse was trending hard in the latter part of 2021. Facebook’s decision to rebrand as Meta was an essential driver of this attention. Skeptics suspect a lot of hype. But as this article will demonstrate, the metaverse will deliver tangible benefits to individuals and businesses, opening new avenues to health, happiness and economic opportunity.
Make Way For The Metaverse
Earlier this year, Facebook put down another marker suggesting the metaverse is on the horizon and will be very big. They bought a splashy Super Bowl ad, which teased us with a vignette suggesting the metaverse will make all things new.
Other signs abound that the metaverse and its creators, investors and early adopters are filled with conviction and enthusiasm for this “next big thing.” Consider these signs, which show the great metaverse land grab is underway if media accounts are to be believed:
• Microsoft announced plans to acquire video game powerhouse Activision at the beginning of this year. The acquisition is a good fit because of Microsoft’s position in the gaming industry with its Xbox and other offerings. The company explained that Activision would give it “building blocks for the metaverse.”
• The connection between gaming and the metaverse is strong. Gaming provides an important portal or bridge for consumers moving into a world of online collective activity. While gamers play, they may do other virtual collaborative endeavors and purchase digital goods and services. Thus, another gaming incumbent with its PlayStation platform, Sony, announced its intention to buy Bungie, which created Halo’s and Destiny’s blockbuster games in a deal valued at $3.6 billion.
• Not to be denied, Apple is laying the foundation for its role in the unfolding metaverse with various products, including high-end AR/VR headsets.
The Metaverse: A Working Definition
Matthew Ball is one of the top authorities and influencers on the topic of the metaverse. Here’s how he defines it in his framework for the metaverse: “The metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”
This definition is complicated. Let’s call out a few of the critical features of the metaverse.
First, we should not narrowly identify the metaverse with virtual reality, gaming or any single technology or digital offering. Second, the metaverse will not replace the internet but will instead build upon the internet and, in the process, transform it—just as mobile computing changed the internet and how we use it. Third, the build-out of the metaverse will take time, a decade or more. But, in the process, it will impact most businesses and industries. “The collective value of these changes,” says Ball, “will be in the trillions.” Finally, as the metaverse evolves, it will simultaneously change our cultures, lifestyles and even conceptions of the larger world we inhabit.
When the rhetoric gets a bit overheated—one cover story links the metaverse with “The Future of Reality”—it’s helpful to dial down the hype and look for when and where we may expect the first applications to appear.
Here’s a provisional list of four practical ways healthcare will join the metaverse.
1. Gamification Of Healthcare: The role of gaming will persist in the metaverse. Nudges, rewards and collective competitions will start to crack the nut of compliance, motivation and behavior change, all keys to achieving better population health.
2. Mental Health: Already mental health apps are increasing on the internet. Better personal presence and reliable social connections will combine with data and intelligence to make the metaverse a kinder, gentler place—with therapeutic results.
3. Physical Therapy (PT): Longer life, chronic disease and the requirement to limit hospitalizations and other institution remedies have been a great boon to physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine. If physical therapists chip away at obstacles related to cost and access in the metaverse, they will boost the effectiveness and efficiency of PT.
4. Weight Loss: A variety of causes drive the pervasive public health threat of obesity. But inactivity and other lifestyle habits are chief among them. Losing weight, therefore, often requires more than a diet or a well-intentioned New Year’s resolution. An integrated approach delivered in the metaverse, combining personal data, social reinforcement, positive psychology and a “sticky” regime of physical exertion, may potentially be just what the doctor orders and a solution that helps patients see results.
Can We Get Physical In A Virtual World?
Everywhere, we see people with their gazes fixed on their mobile devices. Even television’s “old” technology commands a powerful lock on our waking hours. The average person in the U.S. watches five hours of television, and seniors watch even more.
The next set of technologies that deliver the metaverse will invite us to pass through transparent screens and into a world where we are no longer passive observers but active participants—an altogether healthy change.
Which Way To The Metaverse?
The metaverse buzz is picking up momentum. So, what are healthcare leaders and other practitioners supposed to do to prepare? How best to distinguish between hype and substance?
Here’s the good news: We are already well along the road to adopting the metaverse. Healthcare is rapidly catching up with other industries like financial services pushing toward digitization. In addition, we are seeing the precursors of the metaverse wherever technology is extending personal presence and promoting collaboration: telemedicine, robotic surgery and remote monitoring.
The watchword is continuity. Healthcare is presently seeking the optimal balance between virtual and in-person healthcare. However, one day that distinction will seem much less relevant than it currently does. And as that distinction blurs, we will find ourselves ushered into the metaverse.