If the metaverse is the “moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life,” what role will the metaverse play in caring for our health—be it our health in real life (IRL) or in cyberspace?
While to many, the metaverse seems like a far-fetched foray into the future dystopic imaginations of tech moguls, we implore you open your eyes and look around you. Take the massively popular online gaming world of Fortnite, or the digital productivity and collaboration universe of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Miro or Figma. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaverse has already arrived—and it’s here to stay.
As individuals, as consumers and as citizens we all need to start imagining how the services we use in our everyday lives will show up in the metaverse, and how our lives are going to change as a result. If you are a business leader and believe that you have years before the metaverse will impact your business, think again; your business is vulnerable to massive upheaval.
At frog, we work to realize novel use cases for disruptive technologies. And through our healthcare practice, we have put our minds together to imagine how the metaverse stands to revolutionize the healthcare industry as we know it, and how human needs in healthcare could be solved with Web3.
Continue reading for our take on the future of health insurance, therapeutic care and hospitals. We’ll discuss how these core aspects of healthcare might interact with crypto-security (the use of blockchain, tokens and new systems of hyper-secured governance) and digital immersiveness (the rise of headsets and other virtual reality and augmented reality hardware and software to create spatial care experiences).
Health insurance is at a turning point. Consumers increasingly expect insurance companies to evolve to provide coverage that’s personalized to everyone’s needs and possibilities. Currently, insurance is a one-size-fits-all product that works by pooling and spreading risk across a population in order to minimize the frequency of bankruptcy. This allows those with insurance who need care to receive it without incurring excessive financial hardship.
In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act limits how insurers are able to measure the risk of any individual (e.g., gender is no longer a permissible dimension for premium differentials). However, in the metaverse, with the explosion of digital data, insurers will be much more apt at being able to predict—and prevent—health risks and health exacerbations. While this will undoubtedly pose significant ethical questions which will need careful thought and consideration (e.g., what information insurers should and should not be allowed to adjust premiums based on), if used appropriately it could mean individuals enjoy insurance that’s tailored to them and responsive to individual needs
In the metaverse, using crypto security, people will become the sole owner of their data. Gone will be the days where medical history is a patchwork of billable events held hostage by electronic health records providers or insurers. Instead, medical history will incorporate a comprehensive multitude of a person’s entire activity on the metaverse (alongside aspects of their life such as recipes they’ve used, where they were, what types of conversations were they having, their search history, who they engaged with, etc.). Data will be securely stored, accessed and shared by individuals using their crypto-wallets. This will encourage regulatory institutions to update some of their standards (e.g. HIPAA) that today stifle the kind of data sharing that could dramatically improve one’s health—all with increased data security and privacy safeguards for consumers.
For example, when scheduling a medical appointment in the metaverse, a person may log in to their provider platform with their crypto-wallet and choose which elements of their health history to share. The health provider and insurer gain temporary access to the wallet and results of the consultation are securely stored in the patient’s wallet. The wallet is also used to validate health outcomes, enabling a wave of new value-based offerings. For example, the meta wallet of a person who suffers from depression will be able to demonstrate the beneficial effects of a successful cognitive behavioral therapy through blockchain by proving the reduction of feeling of sadness and other symptoms typical of the condition.
Further, in the future, we predict the tokenization of coverage, powered by non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Individuals will be able to earn or acquire insurance tokens by completing preventative care measures and by behaving in ways that support health. These tokens can be used to buy down premiums or be used beyond healthcare to support lifestyle enhancements.
In this way, health insurance becomes less about spreading risk, but rather a true partner in helping keep people healthy. Insurers will become masters of curating and valuing impactful tools, resources and activities for their members to partake in. The insurers who will win in the coming years will be those whose portfolios of token yielding interventions offer the greatest impact, and the most handsome rewards. In the metaverse, the incentives and mechanisms to keep people healthy will finally be realized.
Today, people are increasingly using digital technologies—such as MyChart and Apple Health—to gather medical information, connect with other patients to garner support, book medical appointments and support their treatment routines (e.g., pill reminders). For patients, it is natural to use a combination of physical and digital services, just as they do with work and all the other aspects of their lives.
However, pharmaceutical companies are tepidly dipping their toes into the territory of digital therapeutics. According to Grand View Research, the Digital Therapeutics marketplace was valued at just under $2B in 2021, just 0.05% of the healthcare industry in the U.S.
As the metaverse continues to form, we expect that digital therapeutics will become the preferred and leading therapy of choice. Over the next few years, we anticipate a race to create the most delightful, human-centered and impactful digital therapeutics across nearly all diseases and conditions.
Pharmaceutical companies will be required to entirely upend their existing business models and operations. Gone will be the days of searching for the next blockbuster drug through intensive research and development, and slow clinical trials design. Instead, successful pharmaceutical companies will be those that look, feel and operate more like an agile tech company than a slow, risk averse and highly conservative life sciences company, delivered in combination with an unwavering commitment to rigorously tested and proven efficacy. Physicians and scientists will become digital therapeutics creators who advise at every step of the agile development of a new therapy and clinical trial, combining high medical knowledge and clinical experience with cutting-edge design and coding skills.
In the next few years, we anticipate a shift from pharmacy-derived care to an open and highly decentralized digital therapeutics marketplace where individuals can select treatment options that meet their unique needs, based on medical prescriptions that sophisticatedly triangulate data from all the patient data ecosystems. Cryptocurrency will be the currency of choice for the digital therapeutics marketplace. Insurers will provide far more flexibility for consumers to use their benefits to cover highly rated therapeutics on the marketplace.
Today, hospitals and providers rely heavily on geographic proximity to population centers to drive marketshare. In the U.S., hospitals are capital-intensive businesses with major retail footprints aimed at driving people through the doors to increase revenue and profitability. Even those hospitals under value-based contracts are heavily dependent on timely access to the appropriate centers of care (e.g., to a primary care clinician rather than a specialist, or an urgent care center rather than an emergency room). U.S. hospital executives are purchasing physician groups and local or regional clinics and facilities to drive volume through their main centers of care. Moreover, hospitals face particular challenges in reducing their environmental footprint. Today, hospitals are physical. In the future, hospitals will only be physical when necessary and fully digital for everything else.
Instead of insurance networks being designed based on geographic presence, the digital experience, quality of care, expertise and universal accessibility will become the key drivers for network design. No longer will caregivers miss appointments for their loved ones due to distance. Rather, all who wish to participate will be able to do so from anywhere in the world. Gone will be the days when just hospital staff are involved in the provision of care. Instead, a truly integrated and comprehensive set of services can be coordinated in real time to deliver the best care regardless of location. Gone will be the days when a Chief Operating Officer holds outsized influence on the business of a hospital. Instead, the Chief Digital Officer will be in charge. Nurses and other frontline staff will play an essential role in coordinating operations between physical and digital.
Finally, in the metaverse, mental health will no longer be an after thought, but rather a deliberately designed part of comprehensive care. Brain wearables and implants will be widely available to monitor and treat mental health, supplemented with data from the metaverse that will constantly measure mental health. A multitude of opportunities will exist to connect with trained mental health providers and digital therapeutics 24-7. And the metaverse will be filled with therapeutic escapes to help relax the mind and to make space for mindfulness.
Hospitals will increasingly expand beyond their geographic limitations and think instead of designing and realizing a global model of care. This will be driven by delightful digital experiences, universal access to the best online clinicians, AI-driven medical advice and a new era of convenience and imagination. Given the access to exponentially richer sources of data—and exponentially greater medical expertise that transcends any one geography—care in the metaverse will become the preferred mode of care delivery. And ultimately it will help hospitals deliver on planet-centered visions, by enabling them to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.
At frog, our job is to help our clients see the potential the future holds. We help shape opportunities for our clients and their customers to succeed in those futures. Our healthcare practice is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of designing a more human-centered experience for those who need healthcare.
The metaverse represents the newest, and perhaps the boldest, frontier for innovation in care. While there are many unknowns, rather than turning a blind eye, we invite you all to take an active part with us in shaping the opportunities this new frontier presents for us all to better serve those with healthcare needs. There will undoubtedly be serious ethical, moral and experiential considerations for us to grapple with—but we believe in human potential to propel us into crafting an entirely new healthcare universe that is more accessible, more data driven, more secure and more enjoyable for us all. How will you show up?