Over the course of the last few years, the healthcare and life sciences have all gotten far more comfortable leveraging technology to close geographical gaps. Zoom meetings are the norm, conferences are hybrid, and businesses are leveraging the power of social media and the widely available platforms better than they ever had. During the pandemic, the collective hand was forced. They had no choice but to do a “giddy-up” in the adoption of technology to keep their businesses afloat. In healthcare, telehealth, which was once a fringe option, became the norm. They utilized multi and omnichannel approaches to marketing much more skillfully. The idea of the metaverse, that is, an immersive shared virtual reality (VR) is the logical next step, and the infrastructure and technology are growing with the evident need. This whitepaper explores the multiple use cases of metaverse within life sciences
The term Web3, or Web 3.0, refers to the next big leap forward of the internet, which is nebulously defined like the metaverse, but the central tenet is that it will be decentralized. Blockchain is a relatively new way to store data in a public ledger that is immutable once it is created. It is also distributed across many computers or servers.4 In the same way Facebook and YouTube were the products of advances that enabled data uploading and cloud storage, many believe that the metaverse will be the “face” of blockchain technology.5 The metaverse is, by design, decentralized. No one owns the metaverse; the same way no one owns the internet. However, there are major players – just like the internet. Google is obviously a major player, but not the owner of the internet. Similarly, the metaverse does not have one owner. Due to the decentralized nature, the ability to shop, game, socialize, learn, and do business in the metaverse is therefore not codified by a single set of rules, standards, and so on. On the positive side – it allows for a democratized growth of this shared space. On the other hand, issues like avatar portability between apps/spaces, or how to keep kids safe is not governed by one central decision maker. Therefore, different “places” within the metaverse could have vastly different structures and become almost islands.
Focusing on the life sciences, healthcare, biopharma, and medicine in general, the metaverse is going to enable incredible patient experiences. The exciting use cases and potential benefits of them will be discussed further in this paper. However, the focus of the discussion so far was about the decentralized and therefore, not standard nature of the metaverse. Although there are clearly certain advantages to this approach, for life sciences there are challenges. As there are no universally accepted standards, security is not provided. Privacy is another major hurdle to unleashing the potential of the metaverse in life sciences. Life sciences, healthcare, biopharma, and medicine are highly regulated industries – and for good reason. There are highly specific guidelines around what constitutes a “safe” environment to have sensitive conversations, how to protect data, how to store data, and so on. All these guidelines will need to be managed in the course of thinking about the use cases. There are some people who feel a cloud IT layer could satisfy the security requirements, and others feel that blockchain is the perfect way to secure data, specifically patient data. Hence, how we as an industry view security is a big issue that needs to be addressed.6
However, healthcare does not need to wait for the security issue to be solved before taking advantage of this technology. By creating a “private metaverse” that is completely outside of the public space and metaverse zeitgeist, there exists the opportunity to essentially creating a hidden bubble for interactions. This bubble, or a “private metaverse,” could contain immense virtual spaces and allow pre-defined users to interact. This takes away the idea of needing to allow general access or putting the app in a centralized, public place. By doing it this way, it is essentially the same as adding an app to a phone without needing to go to the Apple Store or Play Store to download it. It would only become accessible to the users if they were pre-defined as part of the “bubble,” and it was opened up to them.
In this way, some incredible use cases of the metaverse immersive and shared realities are explored to make meaningful impacts across the industry.
Use Cases for the Metaverse Within Life Sciences
One of the most easily adopted, and potentially a huge game changer, is the use of technology in the learning and development space. The way we teach has changed vastly with the advent of new technologies. Once, not too long ago, everything was done in person. There were big training binders filled with a ream of paper with everything that anyone would need to know. Later on, there was an increase in PDFs and learning via reading on a computer, along with some trainings in person pull-through. Later still, the arrival of m-Learning or e-Learning also gave trainers the ability to train using interactive, engaging platforms that had an audio and visual component, was trackable and could measure how the learners were doing centrally. Today, learners will often have a mixed modality approach for their learning needs, with an emphasis on e-Learning, PDFs, videos, and in person or web-based synchronous meetings and workshops.
What has remained constant is that learners have always valued the in-person learning opportunities (whether as the main modality or as context/pull-through) to solidify what they have learned in other modalities and put it into practice in a safe space.
Owing to the pandemic, the past two years have seen the increased use of technology to bridge the physical distance. In-person workshops were shifted to meeting platforms. Synchronous touchpoints, even on these sorts of platforms, continued to be essential. However, the general consensus seems to be that these platform-based sessions have not been a 1:1 swap with in-person meetings. There are distractions at home and it is all too easy to lose focus on what is going on. If there is a role play or verbalization, it can be challenging for it to feel real or organic. There is no “water cooler” chat or hallway run-ins with your team – which is an underappreciated component of getting together in person.
In the private metaverse scenario, learning teams can create immersive scenarios that allow users to be in the settings that they will encounter in their day-to-day job. This allows users to interact in a safe environment with their peers and role play/verbalize to practice skills. For instance, a pharmaceutical company has a new class of sales reps that are coming on board. Three years ago, they may have had a week of in-person training, followed by some home study, then come back together to put it all together, practice, and certify that they know the material and are ready to be in territory. During COVID-19, they did asynchronous home study studded by synchronous web-based meetings to check for understanding and add context. Certification may be done via the web-based meeting platform. Now that most companies are coming back to the office at least in some capacity, maybe the company has taken a middle-ground approach where they use the home study upfront and bring people into a workshop setting for practice and certification. There are huge costs associated with bringing people in house for these workshops – and time is limited. In this scenario, imagine if during the onboarding process, learners were able to access an immersive virtual doctor’s office early and often during their learning. They could watch facilitators show what good looks like, and then jump in and practice with their peers. As they learn a skill, they could go into this world and immediately practice and apply it. Hence, they could reduce the difference between the way it feels to verbalize in a hotel conference room with their peers to how it feels to have a conversation with a doctor, in a doctor’s office.
From a learning perspective, there are incredible gains to be seen using this approach.
The metaverse is ideal for games. Roblox and Fortnite are two examples of what a metaverse is – a digital equivalent/avatar is interacting in a persistent virtual space with others.8 Couple that with the understanding that gamification is big in the learning space because it works.
Creating immersive learning games in a private metaverse can allow L&D teams to exploit the best parts of gamification in a truly engaging and powerful way. Imagine teaching the anatomy of the cardiovascular system. While an e-Learning or video on this topic can be easily made available, what if one could shrink the learners down “Magic School Bus” style and allow them to navigate the cardiovascular system from the inside, see how the blood moves through the heart and lungs and is circulated out to the body and then back into the heart. What if they could see atherosclerotic disease firsthand and work together to “fight it” by changing behaviors of the “host”? Maybe you could watch the impact inside the cardiovascular system as these behaviors or medicines take effect, understanding firsthand what can be achieved, and the difference it makes. That would be an incredibly immersive and engaging experience that could be fun and impactful.
Organizations can gamify anything, and in this modality – make anything much more tangible to learners. Annual compliance training has been a tough nut to crack as far as making this mandatory and important training come to life and gain focused attention. Compliance is such an important topic, and all too often they see these training programs as a “check the box” exercise. What if they could immerse users into situations that were tricky? Make compliance come to life, and make it truly an application-based scenario? For instance, place learners at a speaker program and let them work together to identify deficiencies or areas of concern.
HCP Education and Detailing
Healthcare Provider (HCP) education is another obvious use case for this technology. From teaching new techniques to allowing doctors to practice surgeries, HCPs can learn new techniques and information in a novel way. This platform can allow for communities of practice get together, have conversations, and even showcase best practices. Key Opinion Leaders and HCPs can have discussions in this space, and others can either watch or join in the discussion. This is more than a platform; it is a new way of communicating.
In the not-too-distant future (once some of the security issues have been ironed out), organizations can expect to see HCP detailing within the metaverse. Reps could “visit” doctors, and have focused, thoughtful discussions. From the perspective of reps, not only is it great to have the undivided attention of the HCP, but as there is no drive time/transportation time and they can be more efficient with the number of hours they have in a day. Rural areas could be covered as effectively as the more populated areas.
Imagine if doctors had a question real time and could just put on their headset and be able to connect to the right person immediately. Like an “always on” chatbot – companies may decide to staff an “always on” approach in VR.
Patient education is a great application. A patient could learn more about their disease, shrink down, and be transported inside their body to understand at a micro level what is going on, and what the therapies or surgery hope to accomplish. This sort of immersive content would help the patient understand what is happening and has the potential to be a great patient experience.
Communities of patients could get together in a common area, discuss what they are going through and be able to see others going through the same thing.
There was a study done out of St. George‘s Hospital in the United Kingdom that had patients undergoing surgery with a local anesthetic. They wore headsets and engaged in VR before or during the surgery and had much better outcomes. All of the patients said the headsets improved their experience. A whopping 94% said they were more relaxed, 80% reported less pain, and 73% reported less anxiety.9
There are also physical therapy applications for this sort of technology. For many patients that struggle with transportation, this can be a phenomenal replacement. It can also increase the patient follow through for physical therapy. Platforms can be gamified, and the physical therapists can continue to monitor their progress closely.
About Future Ready Healthcare
Future Ready Healthcare is an independent platform for inspiring conversations and thought-provoking content to build capabilities and culture for the future. Through avenues like industry councils, thought leadership papers, and Indegene Digital Summit, healthcare leaders explore topics of common interest on the platform. They bring diverse perspectives and share personal stories to provoke and inform their strategy and operations. Indegene is proud to orchestrate these conversations that drive the future of healthcare. To learn more, please visit www.futurereadyhealthcare.com