At a time when so many people are dealing with mental and physical health issues, tech platforms such as the metaverse can offer more than a little comfort to consumers.
My Mom has just had a knee replacement. The hospital itself isn’t busy on the physical side, but the psychiatric ward is sadly filled to the brim with young adult patients. The decline of mental health is one of the silent consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbated by young people not being able to go to school or chat and interact with their friends for over two years, which has added to their emotional and psychological distress.
Mental health is seen as a secret and covert subject matter, but since South Africa ranks 106th on the United Nation’s World’s Happiness list, this does seem to indicate the extent of how serious the mental health situation is in our country. The Global Health Data Exchange estimates that 251 million to 310 million people worldwide suffer from depression.
So, what can technology do? Enter the metaverse to the rescue.
The metaverse, although still in early stages, promises a lot of positive impact. In today’s ‘digital-first culture’ a digital twin (of yourself) aka an avatar, would go into an environment where we can shop, trade, travel, socialise, go to school or university and interact with one another. The goal is to offer a hyper-real alternative world to the one that you currently live in.
For our youth this means infinite opportunities for socialising, learning new skills and exploring what interests them. The mental health crisis, which has affected so many of our young adults who are alone in real life, would essentially be catered to by existing in a virtual reality world.
Similarly, for my Mom getting a new knee in the virtual space, would be as simple as her digital twin visiting an online hospital with virtual medical staff – her knee would be scanned and 3D printed in the physical hospital. Sounds very sci-fi but 3D printing of bones is now a reality. The bones are printed using tricalcium phosphate, which your body can use to remodel implants into vascularised bones. The implants are specially made of a porous structure and feature large pores and canals for cells to attach to and reform bone. Your body regenerates itself.
Finally, the surgery would be done in a real hospital by a VR doctor (from anywhere in the world) assisted by a robot. Already Netcare offers robotic assisted technology for orthopaedic surgery at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital, Netcare Pinehaven Hospital in Krugersdorp, and Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Cape Town. Isn’t that exciting?
In essence any medical treatment would be treated – not in a real hospital – but monitored online in a virtual reality hospital. The visual representation would include hospitals, medical equipment, medical staff and finally, virtual-real links.
Which means our teens would be treated at home in a virtual doctor’s office with other kids around the world who are experiencing the same thing instead of in a hospital ward. Most importantly, my avatar can visit the hospital at any time instead of waiting for visiting hours.
So how are other brands working in the medical space?
Apple watches have several medical apps including a blood oxygen monitor and an ECG app which provide alerts for an irregular heart rhythm and high and low heart rates. I am very sure that my cousin Wayne’s life was saved by his Apple watch as it picked up that his heartbeat was odd and he had to have an emergency bypass operation. Wayne’s phone now sends his health data directly to his doctor.
Nike Fit is another great example. The device will scan customer’s feet and determine the correct shoe size. Nike Fit is part of Nike’s strategy to sell more products directly to consumers through their own shops, website and mobile app. Of course, selling real shoes is just part of their future strategy – Nike has just bought a virtual shoe company (RTFKT Studios) that makes NFT’s for your avatar in the metaverse. An NFT is a non-fungible token and yes, ‘fungible’ is a real word.
Pfizer has piggybacked on the very popular Minecraft game and launched Hemocraft, which is an educational tool that teaches kids in an immersive surrounding to learn about hemophilia and how to stick to their treatment plans.
How does Hemocraft do that? As part of their quest, game players interact with the so-called ‘village doctor’ – a fictional healthcare professional – to learn how to adhere to their treatment plans and understand how their therapies work. They put that knowledge to use throughout the game, as they’re challenged to monitor factor levels and self-infuse to control bleeding.
As a kid watching Star Trek all those years ago, medicine and medical devices really was science fiction but now 20 to 30 years later, that TV magic has become science fact.
This is tech for good.
Leanne Patton is a media planner at The MediaShop.
Read more: Isabel Smit (The MediaShop Planner) wrote about The Metaverse: Advertising and the Future of Marketing (published 08 September 2022) which is a great article about advertising in the virtual world.