Most of us were introduced to the word “metaverse” when Mark Zuckerberg announced he was overhauling Facebook’s name and rebranding it as Meta. Although there are several definitions of metaverse floating around the Internet, Wikipedia defines it as, “as a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet.” 1
What Can You Do in the Metaverse?
Since the metaverse is supposed to simulate life, users may partake in various activities that they would otherwise enjoy in everyday life:
- Purchase real estate.
- Socialize and build relationships with others.
- Obtain a job.
- Buy real and virtual products such as apparel or shoes.
Where Does Health Care Fit In?
On February 28, 2022, CVS Health filed an application to become the first pharmacy in the metaverse, looking to trademark its logo and provide an online store, as well as downloadable virtual goods, including “prescription drugs, health, wellness, beauty and personal care products.”2 CVS also aims to bring its in-store clinic health services and telehealth platform to the virtual universe. As of now, CVS is the first of the major drugstore chains to file for a metaverse trademark.
The possibilities for health care in the metaverse are endless:
- Telehealth: This phenomenon experienced a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic and allows health care providers to deliver care for their patients without an in-person office visit. However, the introduction of virtual reality maximizes the “present feeling” and allows patients in remote locations to receive the same care they may not have been able to access otherwise.
- Blockchain Technology: Blockchains are distributed and encrypted databases that allow data to be stored and transferred securely in a way that no one except the data owner can tamper with. In the metaverse, this would be used to manage and secure valuable health data. Currently, health data sharing between multiple organizations can be difficult. If people could put their health records on a personal file on a blockchain, any health care provider would be able to view the records with one mouse click.
- Digital Twins: A digital twin is a virtual model, or simulation, of any object, process, or system, generated using real-world data, for the purpose of learning more about its real-world counterpart. Within the metaverse, the digital twin could be of the patient themself. Digital twins could eventually be utilized to predict how individuals will recover from surgery or react to different medications.3
National CooperativeRx Clinical Services Manager Erica Guetzlaff, PharmD., emphasizes that the increase in telehealth over the past couple of years will serve as a crucial step toward health care in the metaverse: “For the pharmacy industry, it could provide a more private and controlled environment where patients feel more comfortable speaking with a pharmacist. In other settings, like orthopedic, physical therapy or mental health services, virtual care in the metaverse could help provide more efficient and cost-effective care.”
How Do You Access the Metaverse?
There are currently several different avenues to immerse yourself in the metaverse. While accessing it through your smartphone or tablet is certainly possible, it takes away from the immersive aspect. Experts suggest acquiring some hardware to obtain the full virtual reality experience. This can range from the affordable $10 Google Cardboard to the mid-range $300 Oculus Quest 2 headset, or even the top-shelf $999 Valve Index VR.4
According to a 2021 Bloomberg Intelligence analysis, the Metaverse is pegged to become an $800 billion market by 2024. It is likely between now and then we will see more drugstore and health care companies make their mark on the metaverse and change the way health care is delivered in the future.