How the Metaverse can solve ambulatory health care’s biggest problem
It’s the day of your appointment and you are running behind because of unexpected events. You can’t miss this appointment because the clinic is booked out for three more weeks. You rush to your appointment but you are delayed even further due to traffic. You finally arrive at your appointment, late and flustered.
In the office, others wait for their appointment, every few minutes looking at the clock, waiting. Others go up to the front desk, asking how much longer they have to wait before they get seen. Frustration is in the air.
Sound familiar? This is a scenario I have experienced both as a provider and a patient. The biggest problem with traditional ambulatory health care is that it is a one size fits all model that lacks the flexibility and accessibility for legitimate barriers. For most, this is merely an inconvenience, but for others, specifically individuals with disabilities, reliance on caregivers, and living in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA), it is a barrier that prevents them from receiving appropriate health care and causes undue burden. For these individuals, the ambulatory health care experience is more time and resource consuming.
But there is an answer--the Metaverse. This is the latest buzzword and the future tech companies are betting on, and a future I believe the health industry should also bet on. Health care is already in the process of transformation as tech companies such as Apple, Samsung, and many others integrate health features into their products and strengthen their partnership within the health industry. With the current trajectory of health innovations, we see some of the predictions of Eric Topol--of a technocentric health system--coming to fruition. With the emerging topic of the Metaverse, I believe it is apt to revisit this topic, as the Metaverse could be the catalyst to fully realizing this digital health care system.
What is the Metaverse?
A supposed successor to the internet, the Metaverse has been described but not defined. Simplified, the Metaverse is the processing of the digital world (internet) in a manner that mimics the interactions of the physical world. This processing allows the interaction and content of the internet to be experienced as it would be in the physical world, and even more. Also like the internet, interactions within this world will be in real-time, meaning one experience can be shared by all present. It is important to note that just as the internet is vast, so will be the Metaverse, hence, what I will be discussing should be seen as a microscopic component of this vastness.
Back to the opening scene. The biggest problem with the traditional ambulatory health care model is the burden it places on individuals without providing much flexibility to overcome these burdens. Looking at individuals with a disability and those residing in HPSA, we can identify barriers and ways a healthcare model based on the Metaverse can address them.
How will the Metaverse improve the delivery of health care?
The major benefit of the Metaverse is its accessibility. Technology and the internet are becoming widely adopted, with 49% of the world, and 88% of the US being connected to the internet. The rate of adoption continues to increase and it is not inconceivable that the global rate would pass 70% in the next 10 years, possibly coinciding with the progression of the Metaverse.
This is promising because just as anyone with the internet can access google, so will they be able to access health care in the Metaverse. With a click, the patient in the Metaverse will be transported to their appointment, immersed in a clinical session as they would in a physical system--wherever they are.
Looking at individuals residing in HPSA, this prospect eliminates the barrier of provider shortage as their location no longer determines their access to care. In the traditional ambulatory model, provider shortage results in increased resource and time cost and reduced health outcomes. With a Metaverse based health care system, these individuals will have a means of accessing quality health care without the need to drive hours or wait extended periods of time for an appointment. This is particularly beneficial for access to specialty providers that may require individuals to fly for their care.
As for individuals with a disability, this system also addresses the cumbersome task of transportation to appointments. Leaving the home for appointments is a time consuming and costly experience for some individuals with mobility impairments due to needing transportation services. Clinically, this is a problem I have witnessed often--patients are unable to make their appointments due to unreliable transportation services or are subject to waiting at the hospital for hours to get a ride. This is even worse for those with multiple chronic diseases who may have multiple appointments and end up spending their entire day going to appointments.
If caregiver assistance is involved, the effects of this process are magnified even further. Understanding that some individuals may require high levels of assistance to care for themselves, we see the caregiver having a significant impact on appointment adherence and health outcomes. Further, the caregiver’s time must also be taken into account and the impact that has on them. Financially, the burden grows for the individual as additional resources may be required for transportation and the caregiver may be losing wages due to inability to work.
The possibilities of the Metaverse expand beyond convenience to life-improving and saving features. A Metaverse-based system addresses the geographical, supply, and resource constraints associated with a physical system, and more importantly allows individuals to exercise more independence over their care. Eric Topol has painted the health utopia where technology is not just a feature but integral. I believe this shift will materialize with the rise of the Metaverse.