Are You (Meta)Versed and Ready for Health 3.0?

,

The metaverse is poised to transform how we interact with brands and connect with others. A new report by research firm Gartner1 predicts that by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment. It’s also expected that 30% of the organizations in the world will have products and services ready for the metaverse by 2026.

But before we can understand its impact, it’s important to unpack exactly what the metaverse is. Though the term was plucked from the pages of science fiction, the metaverse is anything but fictional. It’s here now, and although it may be a few years until it realizes its full potential, healthcare marketers should begin planning for a metaverse future today.

Here, we break the metaverse down to demonstrate how it will offer tremendous opportunities, especially for healthcare brands.

Metaverse 101

The metaverse, often discussed as part of the next iteration of the internet, or Web 3.0, is the concept of an interconnected digital experience that complements and works in tandem with the physical world. It doesn’t refer to any specific type of technology; rather it uses a blend of technologies to create a fully immersive experience. The metaverse is a space where all parts of a person’s digital persona would intermingle and coexist within the same digital framework, in real-time. It focuses on social connectivity and allows users to create content and interact with others, sometimes as avatars (digital versions of themselves). While devices like virtual and augmented reality headsets can offer a richer experience, they’re not required. The metaverse is poised to upend our passive Instagram, Facebook and TikTok scrolling, letting us live, play and interact within a 3D world.

The metaverse refers to several layers that make up the Web 3.0 experience:

  • Foundation: the internet that already connects us.
  • Infrastructure: a decentralized system, built using blockchain technology, where developers and builders can create.
  • Content: the top, more visible layer where the average person can engage and spend time.

The content layer, where most of us will interact, is where healthcare communicators can integrate in the near term to create meaningful touchpoints to engage key audiences through immersive experiences.

From Gaming to Game Changer

The allure of the metaverse’s content layer is the depth of engagement it can draw from consumers. When users engage in the metaverse, it’s a lean-in, intentional activity where they can’t be distracted by other screens, as happens while watching television, streaming movies, or scanning social feeds or online news. We already see this in video games, where users connect with friends and shop for virtual goods within the same digital eco-system.

Although today’s metaverse customers—gamers ages 13-25—might not seem like a natural fit for some sectors, the gaming industry worldwide2 is estimated at 2.5 billion users currently and this community is aging. Metaverse users are expected to grow well beyond gamers soon, embracing broader consumer targets. Already, time spent in the metaverse is outpacing time spent on social media. Roblox reports3 that its 202 million daily active users spend an average of 156 minutes (2.6 hours) per day on its platform versus a global daily average of 147 minutes (2.27 hours) spent on social media as reported in datareportal’s digital 2022 global overview report.4

Platforms and Players

Gaming and esports have lived in metaverse frameworks for years. The top metaverse platforms out there include Roblox, The Sandbox, FBHorizon, Altspace, Decentraland and Rec Room. Some even invite third-party sponsorships or integrations. Last year, for instance, the band Twenty-One Pilots put on an exclusive interactive concert in the Roblox metaverse. Major consumer brands are already beginning to test the waters, either working with an existing platform or creating a 3D experience embedded on a website. Merck launched a platform integration campaign where it embedded its own Minecraft world on its website. Additionally, Procter & Gamble created a metaverse of its P&G Life Lab, letting users experience CES virtually.

What’s in it for Healthcare Brands?

The metaverse, built as part of Web 3.0, is anticipated to drive Health 3.0--a more personalized, optimized approach to care. Through its inherently immersive nature, content in the metaverse connects to multiple sensory receptors that can empower HCPs to assess, engage and address all aspects of a person's health. Healthcare brands can potentially embed themselves within virtual metaverse worlds to reach people where they are with targeted patient experiences.

The possibilities are seemingly endless. Here are a few of the applications for healthcare brands:

  • Healthcare education and training: Healthcare brands can reach HCPs worldwide to provide demonstrations and training using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tools. AR/VR training can expand access to connect to providers in remote locations and supports peer collaboration to drive innovation. AR/VR training is already in use in some medical schools in the U.S.
  • Patient communities: Metaverse patient communities can make it easier for patients to engage and connect, especially for those who are isolated due to their conditions (e.g., cystic fibrosis, rare diseases, the immunocompromised).
  • High-touch brand interaction:The metaverse adds an immersive layer to disease and education programs. Through metaverse platforms, brands can host virtual patient and industry events for those who can’t attend in person. They can reach audiences through new advertising opportunities like virtual billboards, sponsored virtual experiences, embedded brand installations and sponsored content.
  • Telemedicine: The metaverse could revolutionize telemedicine, incorporating features like haptic touch and augmented reality to make virtual doctor’s appointments more personalized and human. Healthcare brands can evolve patient and HCP resources to integrate seamlessly into digital telehealth visits.
  • Prevention and diagnosis: New body-scanning, vitals-tracking technology combined with the power of AI and machine learning could drive health solutions in the metaverse.This technology can also improve brand-supportive tools like treatment administration guides, symptom trackers and clinical trial adherence programs.

What Should Brands Do Now?

As healthcare brands begin envisioning how to evolve content within a 3D world, marketers will want to ask and answer these questions to gain a deeper understanding of your audience’s digital behaviors:

  • What platforms and channels are your customers using now?
  • What kind of support, services, products and community are they looking for?
  • How can this new technology serve an unmet need?
  • What consumer behaviors are you trying to support or change?

Integrating new technology into your communications eco-system is exciting, but like all successful communications, messaging will need to be compelling, consistent, and valuable to your audience. And you’ll need to have guardrails in place to honor privacy and HIPPA rules.

As the metaverse evolves, brands that develop thoughtful strategies now for possible future integration stand to gain the most from the Health 3.0 movement.

Kristin Ryan is Executive Vice President, US Head of Digital Innovation and Liana Huber is Vice President, Digital at GCI Health.

1 https://www.marketingdive.com/news/gartner-a-quarter-of-consumers-will-use-the-metaverse-daily-by-2026

2 https://techjury.net/blog/gaming-industry-worth/#gref

3 https://backlinko.com/roblox-users

4 https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-global-overview-report