Hyderabad: There is no conversation these days revolving around technology that doesn’t include artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse. Ultimately merging into an immersive experience, as per tech geeks, these technologies have a lot to offer, including bringing down the cost of care. These were the words with which an exciting and ground-breaking conversation took place at the 20th edition of BioAsia in the ‘lifesciences capital of India.’
Agam Upadhyay, SVP, Chief Technology Officer, GSK, US and Philippe Houben, Head, GTM and Digital Transformation, IMETA, Boehringer Ingelheim, UAE participated in a panel discussion on ‘Healthcare reimagined: Telemedicine, wearables, and healthcare in the Metaverse’. The session was moderated by Ram Deshpande, Partner, Digital Transformation, EY, the discussion focused on the changes in patients’ journeys and healthcare experiences due to digital technology, the next generation of remote healthcare models, ie home healthcare, virtual clinics (healthcare anywhere, anytime), and the metaverse—new possibilities and realities.
Pointing out that be it any new technology or any new stuff that comes in, there’s a lot of hype and it becomes a buzzword, Upadhyay said, “I think metaverse is where it’s still on the hype cycle and converting into reality.”
Updhayay explained that the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet and that it is a driving force behind the creation of an immersive environment, and that all organisations are working to create a healthcare ecosystem where medicines can be brought to market faster.
“We have all seen what happened with the pandemic, and where the need is concerned, we just cannot wait any longer for 10 years, and you cannot wait any longer for billions of dollars invested to bring the medicines to our patients,” added Upadhyay, while emphasising that impacting the lives of people in terms of getting ahead of the disease cannot happen without the support of technology.
Bringing the emotional dimension to the conversation and dubbing it a game changer, Houben said, “The metaverse is the virtual reality that is allowing, and we need to experience it not with the brain but with your heart,” He further added, “Where I do see a huge difference is in the way we can engage with them by bringing them through that immersive experience. And, as I can tell you, we are experimenting with this. And we see significant benefits from incorporating those emotional dimensions into how we interact with patients.”
The focus of the conversation shifted when Upadhayay pressed on the need to improve the overall immersive experience while onboarding a new employee or a new operator for the pharmaceutical companies. He added, “Now think of a supply chain or manufacturing, and when you hire a new operator, how can you create a better experience for that? That operator has to be trained on expensive machines in a plant, especially if you think of pharma, where they are expensive, you know, and so forth. It’s not that easy.”
Updhayay went on to say, as per studies available, there is a huge difference while going through compliance training, and according to him, these are very complex processes. According to the studies, training retention is higher when done in an immersive manner rather than the traditional way. In other words, retention gets longer if training takes place in the metaverse.
Metaverse can play a crucial role in demystifying the myths surrounding disease progression and clinical trials for a drug. Houben elucidated that patients don’t adhere to the treatment because of a lack of awareness about the disease progression amongst either them or the close groups they are knitted into.
“What I believe in also, beyond the technicality of the pill, is also considering the patient experience. So far, we’ve tried to explain it with graphs and patient testimonials,” he said, adding that metadata allows for experiments and better explains to physicians and other caregivers how disease progression will impact my daily life. Patients would also be more comfortable if they were better informed about what happens in clinical trials.
Speaking about cyber security concerns and the need for data governance to ethically regulate cyberspace about existing legislation and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Houben raised an important question about what constitutes personal data. He elaborated further, saying that if you’re joining metaverse, every single week is spent transforming into data. Your reaction is transforming the data, and the analysis of those reactions would also become data.
“What will remain is personal data unfolding under those legislations and actions GDPR? I think it will also greatly impact the consents that we will have to ask the user. Since there will be needed clarity on what basis data is collected in such a way. So I think we need to be extremely cautious in the way data is stored and analysed,” Ruben added.
The discussion also touched on various aspects of mental health, the business value that the metaverse brings with itself, the role the metaverse will play in physicians’ life, the care delivery process and many more. Experts believe that the metaverse is an evolving animal with new technological innovations propping into it through which new approaches to delivering high-quality healthcare treatments and services can be investigated.