The concept of the metaverse originated in the 1992 science fiction novel “Avalanche”. Author Neal Stephenson (Neal Stephenson) in the novel depicts a surreal virtual space “Metaverse”. People communicate and live in virtual identity in this parallel space. In just 30 years, with the rapid development of digital technology, sci-fi bridges have gradually come into reality.
Nowadays, various industries have invested in the metaverse craze and actively explored application scenarios. Once the metaverse is combined with medical health, what kind of imagination will it open up? McKinsey starts from here, and according to the logical thinking of “what”, “why” and “how to go”, it analyzes the three major elements of Metaverse medical treatment, the six major scenarios of application and the three major drivers for promotion one by one, and try one. Explore future business models.
What is it: The Three Elements of Metaverse Medicine—Technology, Experience, and Scenario
Technology and experience are the basis for scene realization
A “complete” metaverse experience is characterized by immersive visual effects, diverse social interactions, and a decentralized and distributed organizational structure . In a space different from reality, people create and trade freely in virtual identity.
The realization of the metaverse experience relies on a series of basic technologies and applied technologies, especially the three key breakthrough technology elements .
The first is virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) technology , which helps human beings to break through physical space-time constraints, so as to obtain immersive and interactive experience; the second is blockchain technology, which has the characteristics of decentralization, traceability and autonomy , which can greatly improve the security and efficiency of data and information transactions; thirdly, the non-fungible currency (NFT) technology, as the support foundation for metaverse transactions, realizes the assetization of digital items and the digitization of display assets.
Metaverse’s virtual experience and technology combination are inside and outside of each other, forming the basis for deepening industrial applications. (see picture 1)
Business scenarios are the driving force behind the development of Metaverse in vertical industries
Based on Metaverse-related technologies and experiences, practitioners in the medical industry will have the opportunity to continuously discover and explore innovative scenarios of medical services. The commercialization of these scenarios has brought continuous progress in accessibility, experience, and safety to participants in the healthcare industry.
Why: Six Scenarios for Metaverse Medical Applications
The medical and health industry still has many pain points in various business links such as prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, education and innovation. The new experiences and technologies brought by the Metaverse promise to offer hope for addressing these pain points. Creating business scenarios with commercial value will bring opportunities for the next wave of medical innovation. (See Figure 2)
We take a doctor who has been in the industry for many years as the protagonist and explore the application scenarios of his virtual character Dr.Z in the metaverse.
For a long time, there have been two major pain points in disease prevention. One is ” lower awareness “. The general population lacks health knowledge, and the early symptoms of the disease are easily overlooked; the second is ” difficult to adhere to “. Many people find exercise tedious and difficult to stick to in the long run.
The application of Metaverse in several major scenarios of prevention is expected to solve these pain points.
Health education scene : Dr. Zhang made rich 3D videos, incarnated as Dr.Z, instructing how to eat healthy, how to exercise and other knowledge in the metaverse. It brings an interactive and immersive experience to patient fans and enhances the learning effect.
Health management scenario : With the blessing of AI, Dr. Zhang becomes a virtual private health doctor, interprets the customer’s medical examination report professionally, uses the digital twin technology to virtualize the human body model, analyzes the health problems of the organs arising from the physical examination results, and deduces health/disease Develop models and make personalized recommendations.
Healthy exercise scene : Dr. Zhang often uses VR/AR technology to exercise on social platforms. The immersive and interactive physical exercise experience created by Metaverse breaks the restrictions on exercise in the real environment, making exercise more fun, and it is no longer difficult to keep exercising.
Because physical medical resources are ” limited ” in physical space, inspection and inspection services can only be realized in limited offline medical places; in addition, the ” collaboration ” of the doctor team is limited by time and space, so that high-level medical resources cannot sink. The level of disease diagnosis varies significantly. Metaverse technology can be applied to the following scenarios to improve the accessibility of inspections and the collaboration of accurate diagnosis.
Check the auxiliary scene : Dr. Zhang recommends that patients with diabetes and hypertension who do not need to be hospitalized stay at home for treatment. Patients connect to the virtual ward of the Metaverse Hospital with the help of wearable devices, and the health indicators are fed back in real time, and if there is an abnormality, an immediate warning will be given. As Dr.Z, Dr. Zhang adjusted prescriptions and treatment recommendations in the metaverse, breaking the time and space constraints of the hospital. Staying at home not only helps patients relax, improves their quality of life, but also saves valuable medical resources.
Disease Screening Scenario : Dr. Zhang conducts research on the cognitive impact of the elderly population through a virtual cognitive screening application. Using interactive game simulation, the early screening of Alzheimer’s disease was completed by analyzing the behavioral characteristics and cognitive responses of game participants.
Remote consultation scenario : For the consultation of complex cases, Dr. Zhang will convene multidisciplinary experts to complete the consultation in the Metaverse consultation room. The Metaverse Consultation Room breaks through the limitations of video-based remote consultation centers, enabling communication to occur anytime, anywhere, and interaction is more efficient.
During the treatment stage, patients and their families often feel insecure when communicating with doctors because of “difficult to understand ” medical terms. Physicians, on the other hand, are often ” lack of support ” in preparing treatment plans and during treatment, and hope to use better tools to complete the treatment of patients. The Metaverse can provide more support for patients and physicians in different treatment scenarios.
Doctor-patient communication scene : With the help of mixed reality and 3D holographic technology to assist doctor-patient communication, in the Metaverse Hospital, the virtual avatar Dr.Z helps patients understand their condition and treatment plan. Rich body language supplemented with 3D props and graphic knowledge can help patients better understand the treatment plan and be more cooperative during the treatment process.
Surgical plan preparation scene : When participating in the surgical treatment consultation and discussion, the surgeon team can use VR/AR technology to conduct surgical simulation, operation plan discussion and scenario rehearsal. With the blessing of these tools, the surgical plan is no longer limited to abstract concepts , but can carry out specific practical demonstrations.
Intraoperative support scene : Using mixed reality technology, during the operation, Dr. Zhang superimposed the medical image and the physical anatomy in real time, which improved the accuracy, safety and efficiency of surgical positioning. In addition, the robot can be remotely controlled to perform surgery with the support of high-speed network.
The prognostic effect of the rehabilitation phase after treatment is crucial. Today, most patients and their families are ” lack of training ” when faced with rehabilitation that takes longer than treatment and needs to be completed at home, that is, lack of systematic rehabilitation planning and family helpers. Patients are often ” difficult to adhere to ” rehabilitation training. The single content and form of rehabilitation exercises and the slow recovery effect can easily cause patients to resist or be inert to rehabilitation training. In the future medical and health metaverse, more interactive rehabilitation programs and forms of exercise can help patients recover better.
Rehabilitation training scenario : Using VR/AR technology, Dr. Zhang and therapists work with patients to design a long-term rehabilitation plan, instruct how to use rehabilitation tools, so that patients can meet the standard of safe discharge and can seamlessly continue the rehabilitation treatment process outside the hospital.
Rehabilitation exercise scene : Using VR/AR technology and wearable devices, patients perform long-term rehabilitation training (such as cognitive, behavioral, visual training, etc.) at home. Improve patient compliance by gamifying some scenarios. According to the rehabilitation plan, Dr. Zhang remotely followed up the patient’s recovery as Dr.Z and adjusted the rehabilitation exercise plan.
In terms of medical education, Metaverse can better solve the ” limited ” teaching problem due to space and time, as well as the ” lack of interaction ” problem of traditional learning based on graphic materials, and improve the efficiency of medical education. E.g,
Scenarios of medical student education and doctor’s continuing education : Dr. Zhang used VR/AR tools in the medical school to re-develop training content such as human anatomy and surgical operations, helping medical students and advanced students to improve their learning efficiency and effectiveness in a more intuitive and interactive way .
Patient and customer education scenarios : In the prenatal school for pregnant women, Dr.Z helps new mothers learn, practice breastfeeding, and baby care through VR.
Education scene for patient family members and home care staff : Dr.Z uses VR to guide out-of-hospital nursing operations, including medication guidance, wound care, and emergency first aid.
New product and new technology education scenarios for doctors : Pharmaceutical companies can use the virtual space of Metaverse to reach potential users on a large scale, demonstrate new products, and invite users to experience. In the Metaverse, Dr. Zhang understands the principles, mechanisms and operation methods of these new products in treating diseases in a more intuitive and interactive way.
Expanding to the innovation field of medical and health products and services, Metaverse can redefine the relationship between users and R&D, and solve the problem of ” lack of integration ” in traditional service innovation. It is also possible to reduce the ” cost and risk ” of research and development with the help of the metaverse’s cross-time and space properties.
User integration and co-creation scenarios : In Metaverse Medical, Dr.Z is deeply involved in the research and development process of a new generation of medical imaging equipment as a user and a developer. Using digital twin technology, Dr.Z generates data and feedback experience while using inspection equipment, and accelerates the iteration of new imaging equipment.
Virtual R&D scenario : In the metaverse, the early-stage R&D of large medical equipment can complete the construction of a conceptual model by using virtual technology, and no longer requires a time-consuming and labor-intensive physical model. Moreover, cross-regional and cross-time collaborative R&D can be achieved in the Metaverse, which greatly reduces R&D costs and R&D risks.
How to get there: Three major levers for the promotion of Metaverse medical treatment
First, Metaverse Medicine will not replace the traditional medical model . The diversity and complexity of medical diagnosis and treatment determine that the deep integration of virtual and reality (hybrid virtual service) will be the mainstream of Metaverse medical services.
In the field of specialist disease diagnosis and treatment, Metaverse will have the opportunity to realize business value through deep reconstruction . Some diagnosis and treatment areas that require long-term intervention, lifestyle adjustment, and communication and collaboration will be the first to make breakthroughs, such as chronic disease diagnosis and treatment, mental health, children growth etc.
At the same time, Metaverse will also create a new medical and health business . For example, the huge demand mentioned above is difficult for traditional medical services to meet on a large scale, such as VR/AR-based functional patient rehabilitation training projects. At the same time, Metaverse has accelerated the process of decentralization of medical and health services . By creating a series of business scenarios for out-of-hospital diagnosis and treatment, health management, and technological innovation, the deepening application of Metaverse makes medical services applicable to different environments.
The construction of Metaverse business is also a process of digital ecological construction . The Metaverse consists of many elements including basic software and hardware technologies, experience platforms and in-depth industry application scenarios. These elements need to be jointly constructed by ecological participants based on their respective endowment resources. Participants should clarify their own advantages, find a position in the ecosystem, and build technical links, business links and business value links between upstream and downstream stakeholders . Building a digital ecosystem is the premise for realizing the closed-loop business of Metaverse Medical, the guarantee for the long-term vitality of Metaverse Medical, and the common task of industry participants.
The development of Metaverse business requires a matching governance system . Twenty years ago, the emergence of informatization in clinical business made the medical management and governance system migrate from the management requirements of paper medical records to the scenario of informatization management. As a result, new regulations were issued for the legal compliance of electronic medical records. Ten years ago, when Internet medical care appeared, the industry management system needed to be extended to the Internet-based platform for seeking medical services. Metaverse needs broader reforms in the medical and health industry. Correspondingly, governance mechanisms such as data privacy, access compliance, responsibility determination, and reward and punishment regulations also need to be followed up to ensure the healthy, orderly and sustainable development of the industry.
The road is long and the road is long, and the prospects are bright
Information technology, computers, the Internet, mobile applications, etc., have driven the continuous evolution of medical services over the past few decades. Metaverse Healthcare is regarded as the next milestone in the evolution of digital healthcare, opening up the imagination for the reconstruction and upgrading of the existing healthcare business.
At the same time, it is also necessary to realize that Metaverse Medical is still in the early stage of development, its business scenarios have yet to be tested in practice, its ecosystem has yet to mature, and its governance system has not been fully prepared. These shortcomings will greatly affect the future development speed.
How to continue to make a difference in the balance of actively guiding and controlling risks? We suggest that on the one hand, technological progress should be encouraged, and on the other hand, possible risks and problems should be controlled to ensure the healthy and orderly development of the industry.
Enterprises should deploy in advance based on their core business and endowment capabilities, especially to seize the opportunity in the establishment of relevant core technologies and standards. For most small and medium-sized enterprises, they should pay close attention to the development trend of Metaverse, and give full play to their own advantages in Metaverse technology and business ecology to find a suitable position.
About the author:
McKinsey expert associate director partner, resident in Beijing branch
McKinsey senior expert, resident in Shanghai branch
McKinsey Project Manager, based in Shanghai Branch
Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company, Beijing Branch
The authors would like to thank Ian De Bode and Richard Ward for their contributions to this article.
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