By 2025, health technology (healthtech) spending could rise to USD 740 billion in the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). With significant investments reaching the healthcare field, businesses are innovating and pushing the boundaries of what could be possible in providing accessible, timely, and efficient patient care. One of the most recent innovations is the push to have healthtech in the metaverse.
The metaverse is a virtual reality (VR) world where people can connect and interact through digital avatars. Such an application could prove pivotal in the healthcare sector, enabling patients to receive personalised care in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) clinic through telemedicine tools. Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) will make users feel they are in the room engaging with the doctor even though they could be thousands of miles away.
We explore the future of edtech in the metaverse
Movement restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic awakened the public and businesses to the need to establish uninterrupted treatment services for patients.
Here are a few healthtech startups in Southeast Asia making a difference in the region:
Online health and beauty clinic Diri Care combines technology and medicine to provide personalised and affordable healthcare solutions. Users can consult experienced health practitioners and receive a diagnosis, beauty product, or medicinal drug delivery through the Diri platform. During the treatment period, Diri provides free-unlimited follow-up questions.
In August, the Indonesian-based company raised USD 4.3 million from East Ventures, Surge, and Henry Hendrawan. The funding will help the company to expand Diri Care services and improve its technology.
Healthtech company MiyaHealth provides access to a network of 12,000 doctors and a network of 3000 clinics to serve patients better and deliver healthcare solutions wherever they are residing.
MiyaHealth has raised more than USD 4.8 million thus far from SEEDS Capital, Elev8.vc, HealthXCapital, Central Capital Ventura, and ST Engineering Ventures Fund. The money will be funneled into product enhancement, expanding to other regions, and hiring skilled staff.
Singapore-based Smarter Health makes healthcare affordable and accessible by standardising and systemising health processes to ensure patients receive efficient and effective services.
This year, Smarter Health raised SGD $5.2 million (approximately USD $3.7 million) from East Ventures, Emtek Group, Orbit Malaysia, Blue 7, Citrine Capital, and Health Management International. The funds will likely help achieve the startup’s expansion goals in other parts of Southeast Asia and product development.
Healthtech application in the metaverse
The metaverse presents many potential benefits for the healthcare sector. For example, it democratises access to skill-based training modules for medical practitioners and students in different parts of the world. Students can attend lessons with top medical professors in less popular medical fields and gain vital patient-care knowledge. Moreover, medical students can practise in a virtual simulation before treating an actual patient, thereby ensuring patient safety.
Additionally, combining the metaverse and healthtech enables doctors and surgeons to conduct pre-operation planning and review three-dimensional (3D) representations before beginning surgery. These initial steps can help reduce instances of medical malpractice. Companies like ImmersiveTouch are revolutionising surgeries by converting 2D images into 3D spatial models.
Healthtech companies can complement traditional treatment methods by offering medical practitioners data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. Doctors could meet in the metaverse using digital health solutions to collaborate on complex medical cases or to monitor patients using wearable or implanted health technologies.
On the business side, startups can generate novel sources of income by innovating health solutions for the metaverse. They can provide virtual reality equipment and platforms, develop wearable healthtech, or offer logistical health solutions, for example, transporting equipment or medication to a patient through drones. Moreover, they can use non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and crypto to promote their health solutions or reward loyal patients in a medical metaverse.
Challenges and opportunities for healthtech in the metaverse
Despite the positive uses of healthtech in the metaverse, many challenges may still limit its use. For one, the masses are only learning about and have not received sufficient knowledge on the metaverse and why it is helpful for more than just gaming. Secondly, the limited amount of information and access to technology for those in rural areas means that adopting new technologies will take some time.
Furthermore, 5G infrastructure and technology have not yet reached full deployment throughout Southeast Asia. Therefore, patients may not be able to receive care in real time and may experience internet buffering, consultation delays, or interruptions. There is also a question or risk of the metaverse making patient care impersonal due to the lack of in-person human touch.
While there is considerable investment in healthtech, affordability remains an issue, which may create inequality in healthcare access. Medical tech-talent shortages and limitations will reduce the possibility of millions of people in ASEAN receiving care.
Regardless, these challenges present an opportunity for healthtech startups in Southeast Asia to find solutions and make the metaverse a viable health solution for the region.