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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Healthcare is having its first metaverse moment. Does anyone know what that really means?

Healthcare is meeting the metaverse.

Can I interest you in a "downloadable virtual prescription drug” to treat your virtual health problem?

You will probably need to read that sentence a few times for it to make sense. I’ll wait.

OK, and we’re back.

This is all coming up because I was casually perusing LinkedIn yesterday when I came across this nugget in a story from CNBC:

“CVS files to trademark its pharmacy and health clinics in the metaverse: The drugstore chain looks to patent its stores as well as sales of downloadable virtual goods including prescription drugs, wellness, beauty and personal care products. CVS’ filing also includes the concept of offering non-emergency medical services, as well as nutrition and wellness counseling.”

I understand (I think) entering a virtual environment to buy something real. I also understand (I think) entering a virtual environment to just have fun and purchase things that aren't real using real money. But is anyone really going to purchase a virtual prescription drug? It won't help your real-life medical issue and shopping for it sure doesn't sound like fun.

Filling prescriptions has never – and will never – be fun. It’s something that we do because we must do it, not because we want to do it.

That raises one of my points of skepticism with the metaverse when it comes to healthcare. In the metaverse does my avatar really need to have all the same health problems I have in real life and go through the drudgery of treating them?

Is that progress? If it is, I don't get it.

One day, this person might be ordering a virtual prescription.

Why is this happening?

I think Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is driving companies to respond to the hype being generated about the metaverse. “The metaverse might be a thing and we should be there!” is what some companies are thinking. They'll figure out what being there really means later. That’s fine, but let's just admit that is what's happening here.

"CVS Health said the trademark filing is another way in which the company is looking to meet consumers where they are, even in the metaverse. So far, CVS is the first of the major drug chains to file for metaverse trademarks."

OK, but ARE there any customers there? Maybe, but it’s probably not many. A poll from late last year:

"Most Americans don’t know what metaverse is and the majority aren’t interested in participating in it, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.
Despite all of the buzz from Facebook and other brands who are eager to make their mark in this burgeoning space, only 36% of US consumers are interested participating in the metaverse. Respondents ages 18-29 led the way with 51% showing interest followed by those 30-44 (43%) and 45-64 (32%). Only 19% of respondents over the age of 65 were interested."

Of those who are interested in exploring the metaverse, I wonder what percentage is excited to buy a virtual prescription drug?

The hype is going to get … hyped up!

I think we can say that the metaverse has now entered the arena of new tech offerings that will be labeled as a disruptor to traditional healthcare. From an article in Forbes,

“Just like many industries are now racing to have a presence in the metaverse, healthcare will be performed in the metaverse as well. In fact, it already is. Forms of therapy that take place using virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are all happening in the metaverse. Physical therapy, cognitive therapy, support groups and rehabilitation have all been taking place in the metaverse even before the term existed.”

That sounds good. I mean I have no idea how many people are doing those things in the metaverse as opposed to traditional ways of delivering the same services, but it sounds positive and helpful. On the other hand:

“Healthcare providers will also be challenged in how to make the telehealth experience that includes consultations, remote exams and digital therapeutics even better than the in-person experience.
Some other challenges may include adoption. How will Meta and other tech companies attract people to the metaverse? Will they need to go to a physical location? Will they have glasses at home? When it comes to the healthcare industry, how will the elderly population — which is typically not as well-versed in technology — enter the metaverse? Adoption could most likely be the biggest challenge.
Of course, healthcare companies will also need to create a new business model that is aligned with patient health insurance, reimbursements and prescriptions all in this new virtual universe.”

Let me just state that those are HUGE challenges and barriers to success. I think answering those questions and resolving those issues could take much of this decade to figure out.

As I wrote about recently, there is an easy way to see if something is just hype or real disruption. It's to simply ask whether a specific service or product offering in healthcare is going to improve access, improve quality or decrease cost for a significant portion of the population. If it can't deliver on all three, we need to be cautious about how much change it will really drive.

Video visits are already here. Will the metaverse take that to the next level?

So, how does this all play out?

It’s difficult to know right now how this will look in a few years, but it feels like the metaverse will be an enhancement to how care is delivered for a niche segment of the patients served by healthcare providers today.

Services that can be delivered better in the metaverse AND provide tangible benefits in the real world at a reasonable cost could be huge winners. Can that be done and who will do it? That remains to be seen.

It’s going to take more than “virtual prescription drug” to get me to buy in.

Bonus content

𝐃𝐢𝐬𝐫𝐮𝐩𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐠𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐫𝐮𝐩𝐭! I recently had the pleasure of taking part in the "orientation to healthcare" course offered by the Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD). You can't talk about healthcare to people entering our field in 2022 without addressing the changes that are happening. I closed the presentation by talking about the disruptors of 2022. These three slides give you a brief glimpse into the conversation.

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