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Virtual clinics for mental health, nutrition — why hospital chain has taken metaverse plunge

Yashoda Hospitals Group has set up an information centre in the space it bought on metaverse platform Decentraland, and expects patient services to be ready by next year.

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New Delhi: It’s touted as the future of human interaction, and soon, you could be having your doctor’s appointment in the metaverse — all you would have to do is create a virtual avatar and use it to walk into a 3D clinic.

Taking the first step in that direction, Hyderabad-based Yashoda Hospitals Group has acquired space on Decentraland — a metaverse platform where users can buy and sell property and engage in other life-like activities — in order to set up a virtual clinic.

In its current form, the space acquired by the group — a single parcel of ‘land’, measuring 16 x 16 ‘metres’ — is a virtual experience centre where users can learn more about the chain of hospitals, the services it provides, and the doctors on its panel.

But by next year, the same space will be ready to as a virtual clinic where the avatars of patients will be able to seek expert consultations from doctors, according to the group — for a fee that will depend on the doctor and may eventually be on par with that of physical consultations.

The metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds or simulated digital environment that mimics the real world using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), creating a space for immersive social interactions.

Dr Abhinav Gorukanti, director of Yashoda Hospitals Group, told ThePrint that buying space on Decentraland marks the group’s plunge into the metaverse, adding that they are working on “evolving the experience” by placing a receptionist to take things forward.

“There are, of course, a lot of limitations to the metaverse; emergency services will have to be physical. However, lifestyle, mental health, and nutrition, these are things that can be on this platform,” he added.

While the space is still evolving, Gorukanti expects the group’s patient services to be ready by next year.

In February this year, Apollo Hospitals Group also announced a collaboration with California-based software firm 8chili Inc. to take the plunge into the metaverse. With this move, the chain of hospitals aims to provide patient counselling before and after operations through virtual reality.

Also Read: Schools, universities in the metaverse? Why virtual reality is catching edtech’s attention

Cost of setting up virtual clinic

Gorukanti said that setting up a virtual clinic is likely to be more expensive than employing telecallers.

“There is a cost involved in buying the land (in the metaverse), and developing virtual infrastructure. For any hospital, the cost is also dependent on the doctor. If the same senior doctors appear in the metaverse, then the eventual cost of consultations may be at par with physical consultations,” he said.

Gorukanti, who sees mental health as among the key post-Covid issues that can be addressed through the metaverse, further said, “With screen times increasing and with people socialising less, mental health is something that I see as a huge space in the metaverse.”

“Ten years ago, none of us would have ever imagined that even a virtual call would be of any value in healthcare. It seemed very impersonal. But there are a lot of people with mental health issues who do not want to reveal their identities. They would rather remain anonymous,” he said.

Underlining how people in the metaverse spend a lot of time as their virtual avatars and are, therefore, comfortable in that skin, he said that such people “will be comfortable going to a digital space like our hospital, where no one really knows them, and also feel physically present when they meet some of our psychologists.”

Gorukanti believes that international conferences, currently held in 2D mode, can also be held in the metaverse. “We believe that hosting some of these conferences in the metaverse is a much more immersive experience. You can probably have an entire 3D operation theatre for people to see your work virtually,” he said.

According to a report by InsightAce Analytic, the global metaverse in healthcare market was valued at USD 5.06 billion in 2021, with North America accounting for a major share. It’s expected to climb to USD 71.97 billion by 2030.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Metaverse is exciting, futuristic technology. But we need to ponder over its potential misuse


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