Your Avatar Pharmacist Will See You Now…in the Metaverse | Deloitte US has been saved
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By George Van Antwerp, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Shoe manufacturers, fashion designers, and entertainment companies have already set up shop in the metaverse where they hope to create an immersive consumer experience.1 Some retail pharmacies could join them in this growing virtual neighborhood. But what (and where) exactly is the metaverse? How might a virtual pharmacy enhance the consumer experience of a brick-and-and mortar store?
The metaverse is a fully immersive online technology platform where users—who have been transformed into digital avatars—interact with others in a three-dimensional world. However, it is too soon to know how commerce will be conducted in this realm and whether people will want to slip on a headset to spend time there. It is also too early to know exactly how the virtual world will intermesh with the physical world.
What would a virtual pharmacy look like?
A metaverse-powered pharmacy—staffed by avatars—could make it possible for customers to ask questions, seek advice, fill prescriptions, and even shop. A patient might, for example, enter a metaverse pharmacy to discuss medications or a treatment plan with a pharmacist avatar. Or maybe the patient wants to discuss healthy food options with a virtual nutritionist. A headset, combined with VR haptic gloves, might allow a patient to experience a disease that has progressed or see the effect a therapy might have on symptoms. Haptic devices use tactile sensors to mimic the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions.
Consider this example: The year is 2030 and Dan is a 42-year-old with type 2 diabetes. A biosensor in Dan’s smartwatch2 recently identified irregularities in his blood-glucose levels and sent an alert to the pharmacist. Dan is unable to meet in person, so a virtual consultation is set-up in the metaverse. The pharmacist has a collaborative practice agreement (CPA) in which a physician supervises care under a protocol that allows the pharmacist to perform specific patient-care functions. At the scheduled time, Dan slips on his headset and enters the metaverse pharmacy. The pharmacist determines that Dan has not been administering his insulin properly. Images displayed through Dan’s headset illustrate how high blood-glucose levels can damage organs and blood vessels, which could result in a stroke or heart attack. The headset also allows Dan to experience diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and other eye diseases linked to diabetes. The pharmacist avatar uses a 3-D model to help illustrate how the insulin works and why the dosage needs to be adjusted. With the physician’s authority, a new prescription is processed and delivered to the patient’s home, along with over-the-counter glucose tablets, some fresh fruits and vegetables, and a few healthy recipes (see Fresh food as medicine).
This example illustrates a possible evolution in the traditional pharmacist’s role—from dispensing pills to educating and interacting with customers. As consumers become increasingly empowered to make their own health decisions, the pharmacist could extend the reach of a physician in non-emergency situations.
Could avatars create a more equitable experience?
The combination of AI-powered metaverse capabilities and interoperability could lead to hyper-personalized care. There are already changes on the horizon for the traditional pharmacist. For example, Aspen RxHealth, a Florida-based start-up, matches pharmacists to health plan members based on their condition or pharmaceutical needs.3 The metaverse could take this concept a step further by matching patients to virtual pharmacists based on their expertise as well as their attributes. Even in the metaverse, a patient might be more comfortable discussing a condition with an avatar that looks and sounds like them. In addition, people who live in rural locations could enter the metaverse and meet with specialists around the world. A metaverse pharmacy might also help eliminate pharmacy deserts and medical deserts by making them accessible to anyone who has the right technology. However, there is a risk that the metaverse could widen the health equity gap if some people are unable to access the technology needed to enter this virtual world.
More pharma companies are entering the metaverse
Several pharmacy organizations are exploring the potential of the metaverse. While the pace of adoption will likely be set by the regulatory landscape and economic viability, the disruptions to the pharmacy value chain appears imminent. Consider these examples:
As the metaverse expands, pharmacies and pharmacists may have an opportunity to use this new world to interact with patients and customers in new ways. However, simply adopting innovation may not guarantee success. Health care companies should use the metaverse to transform their current operations and think about new business models.
We might be years away from being able to seamlessly traverse between the physical world and the virtual one. While some pharmacy chains are putting their virtual boots on the digital ground (meta-phorically speaking, of course), others are taking a wait-and-see approach. We may not reach a point where digital pharmacies replace physical ones. But the metaverse could help to enhance the consumer experience and strengthen the relationship between the pharmacist and the customer—similar to the way virtual health has helped to improve access and expand the reach of clinicians.
Acknowledgements: Ronak Talati, Amrit Kumar, and Rhythem Pahwa, Hemanth Mothkuri, Nilesh Baid, Kartik Sharma, Greg Myers
1 Metaverse gold-rush: The top five brands that are carving up the virtual space, Yahoo! Finance, March 27, 2022
2 Sensor breakthrough brings us closer to blood glucose monitoring on wearables, digitaltrends, September 30, 2022
3 Aspen RxHealth launches clinical pharmacy services platform for payers, press release, October 25, 2022
4 iMining enters into agreement for the first-ever metaverse pharmacy to be launched in Decentraland, iMining Technologies, March 24, 2022
5 Metabloxz brings Kronans Apotek Swedish pharmacy chain into the metaverse, Metaverse News, May 10, 2022
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