Two 3D illustrations of doctors

As the metaverse transforms health and wellness, don't forget about CX

In a virtual doctor's office, a patient observes as the doctor ages her digital twin — a virtual copy of the patient that draws from real-time data — to show the long-term effects of her recovery from surgery.

Physically, the doctor and patient are hundreds of miles apart. But in the metaverse, they are face-to-face.

The metaverse is a parallel digital environment where extended reality technology and blockchain enable people to interact virtually in a secure way. There, a patient and doctor are able to push the limits of conventional healthcare.

It may sound futuristic and perhaps even revolutionary, but the imagined scenario might be more rooted in reality than you think. While gaming, entertainment and social gatherings have a tendency to dominate the discourse on tech evolution, metaverse healthcare is opening the doorway to a whole new patient experience and approach to wellness and mental health support.

According to the Global Wellness Trends Report: The Future of Wellness 2022, the wellness metaverse is "inevitable."

"Wellness is now front and center in consumer's minds — and at the forefront of business and government strategies around the globe — and the world is seeking new technologies that can far better engage and impact the health of many more people," write the report's authors. "From virtual reality and augmented reality to merged reality and haptics, the coming wellness metaverse will create vast opportunities for each sector of the $4.4 trillion global wellness economy."

How the metaverse is transforming the health and wellness industry

According to American think tank the Brookings Institution, only 43% of health centers said they were capable of providing telehealth prior to COVID-19. In 2020, that number increased to 95%. Insurance claims for telehealth services also skyrocketed during the pandemic from around 529,000 in February 2020 to 12 million in April 2020.

Clearly, the healthcare and wellness industries are in the midst of a transformation driven by the adoption of technologies like AR, VR, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, robotics and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) — a concept akin to the Internet of Things (IoT) where sensors in medical devices and advanced analytic platforms help to capture patient and customer data.

Some of these technologies are already taking root. VR, for instance, has been gaining traction within the healthcare and wellness sector because of its unique ability to immerse users into an experience. It has been used as a pain management tool by doctors, as corrective therapy for ailments like lazy eyes by optometrists and as a method for treating phobias, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Blockchain is another key technology for healthcare. It offers an opportunity to encrypt and decentralize patient and customer data, allowing individuals to control what information gets shared, and with whom.

The metaverse may be used to link these technologies in one place alongside emerging technologies like digital twins, ultimately enhancing customer experience (CX) and the patient experience by bringing virtual healthcare into a single environment.

For health and wellness providers and brands, this creates new ways to offer treatment. It also allows patients and customers to seamlessly switch between different types of care. For example, with a VR headset, a user could enter the metaverse for a meditation session, followed by a fitness session or doctor's appointment, all without leaving the virtual world. It could be seamless, with relevant data following them as they move through the wellness metaverse.

However, the experiential and experimental aspects of the metaverse demand a strong commitment to the patient experience. Without it, brands may risk their reputations and their customers' well-being.

The metaverse customer experience in healthcare

For brands operating in the metaverse, the blurred lines between real and virtual life will require a level of consistency, especially in an environment like health and wellness that has a habit of bringing out people's vulnerabilities.

Omnichannel support is key so that customers can engage effortlessly between brand interactions. A positive customer and patient experience will be defined by how easy it is to move and access help both inside and outside the virtual healthcare sphere — and humans are critical to this equation. According to a recent TELUS International survey, 49% of respondents said "if they could only receive customer support in one way for the rest of their lives, their preference would be speaking with a human on the phone."

That doesn't necessarily mean users will want to leave the metaverse to receive support. Rather, they need live agent support options regardless of where they're interacting with your brand.

The human element is also critical to delivering one of the most important aspects of healthcare: empathy. As the metaverse continues to evolve and new technologies emerge, the learning curve for some users may be steep. Having an engaged, knowledgeable and empathetic support team ready to handle queries is intrinsically important to your CX success.

Additionally, the growth of digital healthcare and wellness is giving birth to new online communities. For example, boutique fitness chain Trib3, has become one of the first fitness operators to strike a deal to launch a gym in the metaverse. In its digital world, users will be able to take part in workouts and group fitness classes. That means that as people begin to gather and interact together in these virtual communities, brands will ultimately be responsible for ensuring that users feel safe and welcome. To protect brand reputation and ensure a positive customer experience, brands will need to give trust and safety a frontline role in their metaverse strategies.

In tandem with personal safety, privacy and data security in the metaverse are critical to its success in delivering personalized healthcare. It is, after all, a heavily regulated industry in the U.S., with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requiring the protection and confidential handling of personal health information.

Ensuring ongoing compliance and patient security will require brands to stay nimble with their data security strategy as rules and regulations evolve to fit the metaverse.

The next frontier of health and wellness

We can't fully predict the impact of the metaverse on the health and wellness industry, but there's no question that technology is already pushing the limits of healthcare. At its core, the metaverse is rooted in experience. For brands to keep in step with the next frontier of CX and patient experience, there needs to be a clear strategy in place — and the right partner with the expertise and understanding of emerging technology and best practices — before you take your first (virtual) steps in the metaverse.

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