The global telehealth market will potentially be worth $459.8 billion by 2030. If Mark Zuckerberg has his way, the metaverse will be well advanced by then and actively contributing to this number.

You’ll no longer be looking at a patient talking to you in real-life on a Zoom call. Instead, you’ll be interacting with a 3D avatar and creating virtual simulations as viable treatment options. 

The metaverse is the way of the future and it’s important for you to know as much as you can about it so that you can be prepared to take your healthcare practice to the next level. 

This article explains everything you need to know about the metaverse, what it will possibly look like, and how it’s likely to change telehealth.

But first, let’s go down memory lane and look more closely at the history of telehealth. 

A Brief History of Telehealth 

Telehealth has been an important part of healthcare for decades with demand for it increasing because of the peculiarities of the COVID-19 pandemic. To put things in context from a pandemic perspective — research published by the Rand Corporation revealed that “only 22 percent of Canadian primary care facilities reported offering patients the option to directly communicate by email or secure website about a medical question.” Things changed at the peak of the pandemic when “60 percent of consultations between patients and primary care physicians in Canada were held virtually.”

Percentage of virtual consultations between patients and primary care physicians in Canada.

Looking at how telehealth evolved over time helps paint a clearer picture of how the metaverse will impact the sector’s growth moving forward. Here’s a brief history of telehealth. 

Timeline of Telehealth History

We’ve moved from two-way video consultations via TV setups to having secure healthcare appointments via Zoom to now having virtual treatment rooms in the metaverse. Technology is rapidly changing the way healthcare professionals provide patient care!   

Facebook nearly broke the internet last year with its name change and announcement of a shifted focus to building the metaverse, an alternate reality many believe will be the successor to the modern internet.  Mark Zuckerberg believes that the metaverse will become mainstream within the next five to 10 years. And Bloomberg supports his theory by predicting that the metaverse may be an $800 billion market by 2024

With all the hype surrounding the metaverse, we need to understand what it is, whether it’s something that will truly become mainstream, and what this means for telehealth moving forward.  

What is the Metaverse and How Does it Work?

The metaverse is an alternative universe where virtual reality and augmented reality combine to simulate a real-world immersive experience, regardless of where people are located. 

When you enter the metaverse, you’re given a virtual presence that allows you to interact with other people and even pay for goods and services using cryptocurrencies. Each metaverse platform has its own cryptocurrency.  

There are already three prominent metaverse platforms: Sandbox, Mirandus, and Decentraland. But these metaverse platforms focus heavily on gaming, creative expression, and social interaction. The closest metaverse-like experiences in healthcare so far come from companies such as XR Health, BehavaVR, Tripp, and AppliedVR.

How Will the Metaverse Matter to Your Healthcare Practice?

Some people believe the metaverse is a far-reaching concept. For now, it seems to be a digital world perfect for avid gamers. But Tiernan Ray, founder of The Technology Letter, believes that the metaverse as a virtual world where we carry out things we would normally do in the real world won’t become reality. 

The real question becomes — what if the metaverse succeeds? How will its success impact healthcare? We can’t say with 100% certainty what will happen but we can suggest the outlook for healthcare in the metaverse based on current trends.

The Pros of the Metaverse for Healthcare

  1. There’ll be a new way to collaborate.

Instead of meeting other healthcare professionals for Zoom consultations, your 3D metaverse avatars can meet to discuss treatment plans and test new medical technology. Whether you’ll prefer this 3D experience to seeing a real person on a Zoom call is debatable. 

  1. Training is likely to become easier in this virtual space.

Brandon Doyle, Director of Sales and Marketing at Smiledog, believes that the biggest impact the metaverse will have on healthcare is the training and education of healthcare professionals. 

Quote from Brandon Doyle, Director of Sales and Marketing

The metaverse will make it easier to perform surgical simulations, diagnostic imaging, patient care management, rehabilitation, and health management, which will also make it easier to educate healthcare students globally about best practices in these areas. 

  1. Virtual diagnoses will be easier to make.

The immersive nature of the metaverse makes it easier for healthcare professionals in the mental health space, such as therapists and psychologists, to provide deeply therapeutic patient experiences. These healthcare professionals can simulate environments that help address phobias, PTSD, autism, neuro-visual disorders, and many other mind-related conditions. It will also be easier to simulate treatment possibilities before making decisions about the course of care. 

The Cons of the Metaverse for Healthcare

  1. Data protection concerns will increase. 

Research conducted by Kaspersky revealed five core problems with telehealth: 

  • Patient data leaks
  • Poor understanding of data protection
  • Unsuitable software
  • Diagnostic errors because of technology’s limitations
  • Legacy operating systems leaving networks open to attack

These concerns will only increase as the metaverse becomes mainstream. People will be freely giving away copious amounts of data and will be tracked more intimately in the metaverse. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Director for medical virtual reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, said it well in this quote, “People tend to suspend disbelief and let their guards down even more when they put on a VR headset. Without adequate privacy protections, moving through this virtual space will be kind of like having a drone following you around in real life, monitoring everything you do, and then passing that information on to whoever.”

  1. It’s difficult to replicate in-person customer service in a virtual space.

No matter how hard you try, it will be difficult to replicate the in-person feel of an appointment in any virtual space. This is particularly true for small healthcare practice owners who don’t have the resources to invest in the technological infrastructure and team required for a seamless metaverse experience. 

What Will Virtual Appointments Look Like in the Metaverse?

XR Health provides a great example of what virtual appointment setting will look like in the metaverse.

Step #1: The patient completes a short survey so that the system identifies her specific problem.

Step #2: The patient speaks with a virtual receptionist who will help her schedule a video evaluation appointment.

Step #3: Ensure your patient gets the right equipment for the appointment.

Step #4: Engage with the patient during the appointment and develop a treatment plan. 

You and your patient enter the metaverse and have a discussion (following best practices for virtual appointments). After learning more about the patient, you develop a treatment plan that will probably involve both in-person and metaverse type interventions.  

Metaverse or Not, Smiledog is Here to Help You Set Your Virtual Appointments.

Brandon also expressed his thoughts on virtual appointments in the metaverse.

We are a ways off from the metaverse being a budget-friendly and commercially available option for small businesses and clinics. BUT I see it every day, clinics are going virtual and I think the key to the metaverse and healthcare will be who figures out how to best keep ‘the human touch’ alive. It’s not the metaverse that changes everything but who figures out how to create the connection within it.

Your patients will always need that human connection, metaverse avatar or not. The Smiledog team is here to help you provide the best quality patient care through virtual receptionist services with a smile. Whether you choose to be part of the metaverse or not, we’re here to fulfill your virtual receptionist needs