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The Medical Metaverse

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Welcome to “A Healthusiasm World”, a newsletter by Christophe Jauquet on the latest healthcare and self-care trends impacting all types of industries.

  1. Discover how both healthcare and consumer companies are experience-driven health businesses now.

  2. Learn what's next for customer experience, purpose-driven marketing, and digital health.

  3. Be inspired to design the most engaging health experiences yourself.

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Change excites me

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I'm intrigued about all that is changing. Little wonder I started a business focused on the game changers in health & self-care. When companies want to design innovations, become more customer-centric, or optimize their contribution to society, they come to me to understand "what is changing". Why are my customers changing? How are my competitors changing? What part of my business context is changing? I believe that we can create better health experiences for our customers and patients by preparing for change. And that is precisely what excites me.

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But this recent change really excited me

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I haven't been that excited since my thesis in 2001. Back then, I was researching the future of the mobile internet. While essential elements were missing to make mobile internet a success at that moment in time, I felt an intense excitement for the opportunities ahead. I concluded my research that mobile internet would take flight as soon as a "mobile internet application store" would be made available. And so it happened six years later, as Apple launched the first App Store. Today, you are likely to be even reading this newsletter on your mobile phone. The same device you are using to order groceries, watch television, book a tennis court, share pictures, and read the newspapers. In 2001 it was already clear that mobile internet was going to be that type of game-changer. It excited me.

For the past year, I have felt that same excitement for the Metaverse. For the past months, I’ve been researching its possibilities. My content plan planned to distribute a white paper on the Metaverse by early 2022. But things change fast today. And with the recent announcement made by Facebook and Microsoft, it was time to share some views on it, already today.

But first: what is the Metaverse?

There isn’t a clear definition yet, but you can think of it as an immersive Internet experience. In the Metaverse, you can do the same things as on the internet, but you will be doing it in a virtual 3D environment. It’s the result of combining AR, VR, XR, AI, online gaming, social media, cryptocurrencies, and Web 3.0 into one solution. Some even call it the hybrid mix between physical reality and virtual reality.

If this doesn’t excite you, it might scare you. I know! But where are we with this Metaverse? And what does it mean for the future of health & self-care? Let’s get into it.

Facebook and Microsoft go metaverse

It was difficult to be missed in the news: Facebook changed its company name to Meta. This name change wasn’t a move to distance itself from the different accusations, as some may allude to. It is to highlight their ambitions. Mark Zuckerberg wants Meta to be known as the company creating the basics of this Metaverse, much like how Apple did with mobile internet. No less than 20% of all Facebook - sorry Meta - employees work solely on the Metaverse development. Truth be told, they aren’t quite there yet. But the different tools that were presented during the Meta keynote sure look promising. Within the next two years, I can even see some applications, like Horizon Workrooms, being used in a professional context. After all, the stage has already been set for the hybrid working environment.

Microsoft agrees with the potential of this idea. Merely a couple of days after Facebook shared its Metaverse ambitions, Microsoft presented similar plans. Interestingly enough, the cornerstone of the Microsoft Metaverse is the platform used by over +250 million professionals: Microsoft Teams. By combining Teams with Microsoft Mesh, people can organize meetings where they are virtually present with avatars. Their ambition is to create an immersive experience where you can feel the presence of others without physically being present with them.

The Metaverse is already happening today

When my 9-year-old son is at a family party with us, he knows that he isn’t allowed any screen time during the day. “We are here together now” is the main argument for that decision. You also might have noticed that many of their conversations between your children or nephews are about virtual worlds: the worlds they’ve built in Minecraft, the clothes they bought for their avatar in Fortnite, or the games they’ve created in Roblox. This is part of their reality. Children don’t see these worlds as separate from the real world as much as grown-ups are. In fact, when they are allowed some screen time at the end of the day, they play as well together in the virtual worlds as they are in the real world (if not better). They invite each other into their virtual world, showcase their virtual clothes and finish together with the development of a game. It’s a real immersive experience they are having together.

Our virtual personality is as important

For the past few years, I haven’t given my nephews an envelope with money for their birthdays. No, I offered them V-Bucks, the currency used in the Fortnite world to buy cosmetics and clothing. This business of virtual clothing within Fortnite already values 3,5 billion dollars today. And this is merely an early sign of what is yet to come in the Metaverse. In fact, on the same day as Microsoft launched its Metaverse plans, Nike filed trademarks for virtual goods. The trademarks revealed Nike’s plans of making and selling virtual footwear and apparel for the Metaverse. But one of the most intriguing companies certainly is The Fabricant, a fashion house for digital-only clothing. Their clients are (physical) fashion houses, gaming companies, movie and media firms, and even wealthy individuals who want to up their online presence. Unique pieces of virtual clothing are then sold for several thousands of dollars using NFT technology.

We do similar things in the real and virtual world

It’s not only our personality that becomes relevant in the virtual world. What we do in physical places is being done in its virtual version as well. This blurs the barrier between real and virtual. An agency from Amsterdam recreated their entire office in a virtual reality environment to enable their colleagues to get after-work drinks during the Covid lockdowns. Also, during lockdowns, consumer electronics brand LG launched products, and H&M offered virtual clothing recycling in the digital world of Animal Crossing. Entire showrooms are now becoming virtual. BWM developed a virtual replica of its manufacture. Amusement park De Efteling has recreated the whole park in Minecraft. Virtual concerts attract 33 million people. In South Korea, the Metaverse is considered the new gold and is financially backed by the government. The early Metaverse-like virtual worlds allow us to do almost everything we do in the real world.

Already today, there is no clear distinction anymore between what we (can) do in the real world or the virtual one. They coexist next to each other, providing similar opportunities. But I guess Upland is perhaps the weirdest example of them all. This virtual world provides you with the possibility to virtually buy, sell or trade properties mapped to real addresses. Someone in the Metaverse can now own your piece of land (the one you own in the real world), build a new virtual house on it, and sell it later to make money. Similar to what we do in the real world, but different.

The Medical Metaverse for health & self-care

Fellow writer on health innovations, Kim Bellard, was likely the first to write about the Metaverse for Healthcare. His piece mentioned one powerful statement: “Epic Games is more likely to create a healthcare Metaverse than Epic.” I tend to agree with Kim, the more because companies like Tencent are already heavily focused on healthcare. And let’s face it, the healthcare industry has indeed never really been an early adopter. What’s more is that, compared to the early (mobile) internet days, the boundaries between medical, health, well-being, and lifestyle have even blurred a lot. Companies from industries with little to no affinity with healthcare are now making their marks in healthcare. Something I like to call the Healthusiasm Trend. So, you can expect that health-impacting initiatives in the Metaverse will not solely be developed by the typical healthcare providers.

Epic Games is more likely to create a healthcare Metaverse than Epic.Kim bellard

I expect, for example, mental health companies like Headspace or Replica to be early movers. Fitness brands CrossFit, Peloton, and Apple Fitness, which are increasingly shifting their focus towards healthcare, also have the digital savviness to make an impact in the Metaverse. Don’t underestimate Metaverse builders Facebook and Microsoft, either. They both happen to have their own healthcare focus. Even IKEA has initiatives that hint towards applications for the Metaverse for health.

The Medical Metaverse

However, the great news is that there are already some early examples of healthcare companies taking their first steps within Metaverse-like worlds. Already in 2017, Pfizer created an educational game for children with Hemophilia within Minecraft. The game, called Hemocraft, focuses on the importance of staying prepared and sticking to their treatment plan.

The global organization for type 1 diabetes research, called JDRF, created One world in the online game Roblox. The virtual world allows for education, celebration, and play. But it’s also a world to make connections between family members, friends, and classmates. In the same week as Facebook and Microsoft, US-based healthcare technology company Treatment announced to build the Medical Metaverse. The company focused on AI-driven solutions for consumers and healthcare providers and will provide virtual, immersive, and collaborative online environments that enhance interdisciplinary collaboration. Focused primarily on physicians as well, Veyond Metaverse aims to create the first Metaverse hospital. By using innovative extended reality solutions, they (also) ambition to become the dominant platform for the Healthcare Metaverse ecosystem.

Decentralization of healthcare

and deinstitutionalization of healthcare

When looking at these examples, you can immediately take two essential conclusions. It will indeed be possible to do similar health-related activities in a virtual world as in the real world. But at the same time, the virtual world might have little to do with the reality (read: regulations) of the real world. Similar to how local laws struggle with the nationless nature of the internet, so too does the metaverse make abstraction from the ‘fictional’ country borders in the real world. In fact, the Metaverse has the potential to decentralize healthcare so much that even the healthcare systems may become redundant.

Bump Galaxy is a community for mental health in the virtual world of Minecraft. It gathers mental health coaches, psychiatrists, and patients from around the globe, to work together on collaborative game-specific care programs. Members of Bump Galaxy can spend time in a virtual forest for meditation, reflect on their dreams on the top of sand dunes, uncover traumas in underwater temples, or participate in a collective sound bath in the rainforest by one of their favorite DJs. This is one exciting example of the power the Metaverse could bring to healthcare. Imagine, for example, a joint therapy session with a relationship counselor from Sweden and a hypnotherapist from Japan. It’s easily accessible, experience-rich, very diverse, and always on. It brings people together across national borders, care practices, and knowledge worlds. The Metaverse goes beyond the borders (and regulations) of a country or healthcare system. That’s why solutions like Bump Galaxy might have the power to deinstitutionalize and decentralize healthcare.

So what?

Although the hardware nor the software are yet on point, the Metaverse is already defining the future competition in the tech world (and the world at large). In one and the same week, three different companies separately announced to be building the Metaverse. Facebook wants to build an immersive experience where you can connect with people. Microsoft plans to create a real presence in a virtual (working) environment. Finally, Treatment aims to build online immersive medical collaborations. Still, in the same week, Nike revealed plans to sell digital footwear and apparel. The Metaverse is bound to have as big of an impact on our lives as the mobile internet 20 years ago.

But while the Metaverse may still feel a bit dystopian, this change is one to be reckoned with. Even though the actual realization might be some years away, it is already changing people's expectations today. The current experiences with virtual worlds and with mixed reality solutions are the basic experiences in the Metaverse. In that way, they are already changing the expectations of your customers. It will be critical to start experimenting with these to continue providing health experiences that meet customers' expectations. Because the Metaverse is a mega change, you won’t be able to adapt to it quickly. So better keep a tap on what is changing.

And that is precisely what I can do for you.


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