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How healthcare is revitalizing the metaverse

Joey Egger
Joey Egger
VP Games & Emerging Technology
5 min read
23 January 2024

The following insight is a feature from the DEPT® Trends Forecast 2024. To see all the 2024 predictions, download the 2024 digital trends report

If you think the word “metaverse” is, like, so 2021, think again. 

As part of their most recent report on the top emerging technologies, the World Economic Forum included the metaverse as a technology with powerful potential within healthcare.

The medical metaverse represents a convergence of technologies—including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), haptics, and AI—which come together to create semi- or fully immersive experiences that can improve health outcomes and the experience of patients and providers. 

As we’ve noted before, metaverse experiences already have close ties with the gaming industry—and the medical metaverse is no exception.

Our work creating an immersive, gamified experience with SmileyScope VR was designed to help reduce children’s anxiety during medical procedures. Now, the technology has proven so effective that the International Vascular Access Guidelines recommend SmileyScope.

It goes to show that the metaverse’s ability to gamify different aspects of healthcare for providers and patients around the world has the potential to transform the industry for the better.

Let’s look at four key trends within the medical metaverse.

Improved medical training with digital twins

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical objects, people, or processes that can be used to simulate the real thing. Within healthcare, they’re especially valuable because they open the door for providers to learn more about human biology and how to treat patients in a no-risk environment. 

Apps like Medical Holodeck’s Dissection Master XR, for example, provide a digital twin of a human body rendered in AR and VR. As a “human anatomy atlas,” these digital twins enable medical trainees to study internal organs up close without cutting into a real-life body.

That’s where another platform, FundamentalVR, goes the extra mile: Using haptics, this system simulates the feeling of cutting into soft tissue, muscle, and bone during surgery. 

The market for healthcare-specific digital twins was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion in 2023 and is poised to reach $21.1 billion by 2028. And it’s no surprise why: Clinical trials have already proven that medical trainees using FundamentalVR demonstrate superior performance, accomplishing safer, more expert-rated surgical procedures.

More engaging healthcare management

It’s estimated that the minute patients walk out the door, they’ll forget 40% to 80% of what their doctor has just told them. Thankfully, however, there’s a new generation of health apps using gamification techniques to improve how patients can manage their health.

One of these is Theratrak, the Australian startup behind a communication scheduling platform that streamlines therapist interactions specifically for young patients. Using fun and imaginative gamification features, the app helps therapists motivate children with actionable insights and rewards to keep up with their treatment plans.

Apps like Theratrak provide better data for healthcare providers, improve patient-doctor communication, and reduce administrative costs for practitioners. Most importantly, they empower patients to take control of their health.

New options for more accessible mental healthcare

In 2022, the WHO found that just a small fraction of people in need had access to effective, affordable mental health care and called for urgent action to transform the space.

Even for those in high-income countries, for example, only 33% of people with depression receive formal mental healthcare. But the good news is there’s a new wave of technology that could bridge the gap: AI integrations.

Virtual therapy platforms powered by AI can provide mental health support that reduces barriers like stigma, geographic distance, and cost, boosting accessibility for people around the world.

These platforms meet a range of needs and can be categorized according to how specific or intensive a patient’s needs are.

At one end of the spectrum, for example, is Thymia, a therapy intervention app that was created in London during the pandemic to help combat increased rates of depression amid a backdrop of limited therapists. Using AI, Thymia analyzes patients’ micro-expressions and speech through gamified assessments to quickly and accurately monitor their mental health conditions. 

Where Thymia serves a specific, diagnostic purpose, companion apps like Woebot act more like therapists by using natural language processing to converse with patients and provide advice. Woebot even provides helpful behavioral exercises to keep patients engaged and real-life therapists have found it useful for providing 24/7 support for patients.

Finally, at the far end of the spectrum is Replika. Unlike other platforms, Replika provides emotional as opposed to therapeutic support. As a virtual companion, Replika learns people’s texting styles and interests and uses those to empathize with people through the power of personalization.

Taken together, these platforms can cater to different sets of needs by providing various therapeutic techniques and creating more personalized treatment plans. Some can even help save lives by detecting warning signs and enabling early mental health interventions.

The future is bright

As of now, the metaverse is primarily associated with gaming. Within that industry, it has opened the door for gamers to interact with one another, enter a new type of immersive experience, and engage with characters and worlds in more personalized ways.

Within healthcare innovation, the metaverse has opened those same doors—but with real-world results. 

Whether by enabling collaboration between medical students in an immersive world, fostering improved experiences for patients, or raising the bar for mental health accessibility by providing therapeutic services, the metaverse’s impact on healthcare stands to be transformative.


2024 Trends Forecast

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VP Games & Emerging Technology

Joey Egger