Since the metaverse made its debut, healthcare companies have been jumping to place stakes in the technology – and that’s only expected to rise in the coming years, according to a new report released by Accenture.

The company’s Digital Health Technology Vision report surveys experts in the C-suite — some 4,000 leaders across 35 countries and 22 industries — to get a sense of upcoming health tech trends each year. 

The biggest focus of 2022 is what experts dub the “metaverse continuum,” with 81% of healthcare executives believing it will have a positive impact on the industry.

More than 90% of respondents also said that leading companies will continue to push the metaverse’s boundaries, making the virtual world more real.

“The metaverse is not a single kind of technology or a single endpoint,” said Kaveh Safavi, senior managing director of Accenture’s global health practice. “It’s a set of technologies that enable specific characteristics and benefits of information technology and the Internet that we’ll be experiencing for years. The metaverse is going to have a significant effect on how we do business and how people experience their lives.”

Two of the main ways the metaverse will do that, Safavi explained, is through what he calls the “Internet of place” and the “Internet of ownership” — the next iterations of previous forms of the Internet, such as the Internet of things.

The Internet of place is the ability to create shared spaces, often a combination of physical and digital experiences, or mixed reality, that allows people to participate in an experience rather than simply reading about it.

“We’ve understood that social change occurs by people being in a meeting, not by people reading about a meeting,” Safavi said. “There’s an old adage: ‘If you want to change society, you have to be in the room as opposed to reading about it.’ There’s a different kind of learning aspect if you engage like this.”

One example of this sense of place and mixed reality that’s already begun to emerge is the advent of new channels for training clinicians. The metaverse offers an ability to put two locations next to each other at the same time to give an idea of what’s going on in two places or the ability to move from one place to another in ways that are impossible physically.

“The technology allows us to compress time or eliminate the concept of time as well as physical location,” Safavi said.

“Let’s say you’re trying to train an operating room team on a new piece of equipment and they’re physically in the operating room,” Safavi continued. “However, superimposed into their experience is the ability to go out and have a conversation with an expert on the piece of equipment or the inventor of the piece of equipment. It’s the ability to see information about that equipment while physically seeing their colleagues at the same time.”

The Internet of place can also have benefits for patients, such as the ability to move backwards or forward in time. One example lies in helping patients understand how a wound is healing after a surgical procedure.

“If I wanted to explain to the patient the reason behind why it’s not healing the way it should, the [metaverse gives me the] ability to return with the patient visually to what was happening in the operating room,” Safavi explained. “It’s a different kind of a thing compared to just a normal conversation. Being in an experience is more powerful, it becomes a more engaging, memorable and actionable experience for that patient than handing them a piece of paper.”

Another way the metaverse may transform healthcare is around access or the shortage of healthcare workers. As the demand for healthcare continues to grow faster than the supply, an emerging idea to begin closing that gap entails bringing smart devices or technology to patients through lay people instead of medical workers.

“Rather than a licensed nurse, a non-nurse with a device that allows me a level of an immersive experience can actually come to me and I can then have an interaction with a doctor or a nurse, either a real one or a virtual one,” Safavi said.

The Digital Health Technology Vision report sees the metaverse expanding significantly over the next decade.

“The metaverse isn’t a destination,” Safavi said. “It’s a continuum of technologies. We will continuously evolve the Internet of space and the Internet of innovative places, the Internet of ownership, and have new versions of stories to tell about this in a few years.”