With different forecasts for how a digital Metaverse could change the world, let’s examine what a metaverse pharmacy could look like in the future.
What is a Metaverse?
The Metaverse, the most renowned metaverse, is a virtual reality project being worked on by the company formerly known as Facebook, Meta. Their goal is creating a hybrid community spanning both real and virtual worlds.
However, metaverse is a term (dating back to the 70’s!) used widely across developers for any virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. (Essentially, Meta just piggybacked the term so that their Metaverse sounded like the original).
What’s the difference between a digital presence and a Metaverse pharmacy?
A metaverse pharmacy is like if your pharmacy and your pharmacy website had a baby.
So the main difference between a digital presence and a metaverse pharmacy is the way users interact with it, as well as how pharmacists would interact with it.
It will depend on the direction that metaverse development takes in the future.
What is the future of the metaverse?
The problem is that there’s lots of different metaverses out there. Meta have theirs, Microsoft has their own version…even Fortnite, (that’s a video game, if you don’t have kids) has something they label a metaverse, but none of them interact.
Right now, a lot of companies are building their own ring-fenced versions of the metaverse for their very specific needs and niches.
The metaverse happens when you’re able to jump between digital worlds seamlessly. And it’s unclear as yet whether this will ever happen.
When will society fully embrace metaverse technology?
Before wider society embraces the metaverse, a number of issues need solving.
- Clunky eyewear, with battery issues
- Regulations (which will constantly change)
- Motion sickness
- Security and data privacy issues
- Complex & costly hardware
Could pharmacy exist in a metaverse?
Yes. In fact, it already does. A pharmacy in Decentraland. Which, if you’re wondering, is a digital location. That’s right…a physical location in an unlimited digital space. Depending on which way the metaverse develops, physical digital addresses are either extremely valuable or completely worthless.
Whilst it’s worth bearing in mind that this is a blend of cyberspace and reality, the idea that it matters where something is located in this world is…debatable, at least.
What would a metaverse pharmacy look like?
Let me paint a hypothetical picture of a potential metaverse pharmacy.
1. Getting to the pharmacy
I pop on my digital glasses, and I open up a top-down digital map of my local town centre, like the interactive ones you get in shopping centres. After browsing, I find Metaverse Pharmacy, and select “Enter Metaverse Pharmacy.”
The virtual door opens and I find a bunch of avatars from my local community also visiting the pharmacy (at the moment these Avatars look like they do on the Nintendo Wii, so, room for improvement). I’m after a new sun cream for my child with sensitive skin.
I approach the pharmacist’s avatar, highlighted with a Green Cross floating above their head. They’re “engaged in a private consultation”. I join a queue, which automatically brings me into a private chat with the pharmacist when they’re available.
2. Virtual shopping
Whilst I’m waiting, I’m exploring a virtual shelf which asks me what I’m interested in. After selecting sun creams, the range is pulled up in front of me and I swipe through the options. All the relevant information displays alongside them, including a “Pharmacist recommends for” section, which explains the different SPFs. Pretty swizz. I like this system, I couldn’t have imagined it better.
Suddenly, I hear a beep and see a countdown, alerting me I’m being brought into the private consultation with the pharmacist. I’m now face-to-face with the pharmacists avatar. They’re wearing a white coat and glasses, and look bloody trustworthy.
3. Private online consultation
They state their name and GPhC number, before checking my name, date of birth and address for security. Once that’s clarified, they ask how they can help.
After quickly consulting me about my child’s skincare issues, the pharmacist tells me “Garnier Ambre Solaire Kids Sensitive Advanced SPF50+ is hypoallergenic, has no perfume or colourants, making it ideal for children with sensitive skin.” They couldn’t have said it better if they’d copied and pasted it from a pharmacist’s recommendation online.
4. Paying digitally for real products
They ask if I’d like one sending to my address, and tell me it will cost 5 metacoins. (It’s highly likely a metaverse will run on some form of cryptocurrency-based economy.)
I confirm I’d like that, and before departing, they ask if I’m going abroad anytime soon. I say yes, that’s why I’m buying the suncream. After discovering I’m going to Thailand for a wedding, they book me in for a travel vaccination in the real pharmacy. I’m given the option of paying in cryptocurrency or GBP. Since we’re in my imagination, I’m rolling in metacoins. So I book and pay for my travel vaccines there and then.
Returning home, by which I mean removing my digital spectacles, the sun cream I needed is on its way and I’m booked in.
How could a metaverse pharmacy operate?
There’s an obvious reality that cannot be digitised. You cannot physically treat a digital avatar. Any metaverse pharmacy could focus on prescriptions and consultations, health advice and e-commerce – but vaccinations and other physical treatments would still require a physical location.
Would a metaverse pharmacy expand the boundaries of catchment areas?
This depends on exactly how metaverse technology develops.
If it develops into a singular cyberspace, a platform like the Internet, then it would benefit pharmacies with a strong digital presence across social media, or pharmacies with lots of directory links from other places.
However, if a company like Meta monopolises a single metaverse, with restricted digital real estate, it’s entirely possible that one monstrous behemoth metaverse pharmacy employs tens of thousands of pharmacists to manage millions of virtual reality goggle-wielding patients. After all, if geography is no longer a barrier, there’s nothing stopping a once-limited by physical space conglomeration from serving everyone who needs a health consultation.
It’s an open door for tech-giants like Amazon – fulfilling a centralised prescription/eCommerce logistics contract in partnership with a huge centralised pharmacy. Perhaps Amazon even becomes that huge centralised pharmacy.
However, there are question marks here over how viable these mass-market solutions are. Amazon have issues keeping their warehouses fully staffed as it is. So, hopefully, this type of monopolising conglomerate never materialises. But if it does, I for one welcome and have always welcomed Overlord Bezos.
Avoiding this requires a decentralised metaverse (like the aforementioned Decentraland.) The community governing the rules means less capacity for tyrannical power.
A new meaning of social networks and links
At the moment, backlinks work by linking from one website to another. Building links on a metaverse could transport you from one place to another.
For instance, imagine ending a metaverse GP visit with a link to a metaverse pharmacy, transporting you instantly from the metaverse doctor to the metaverse pharmacist. You get an NFT prescription unique to you, with an EPS system which works on the blockchain. And within 10 minutes, issuing and delivering your prescription is complete, securely and conveniently.
In that way, your prescription base could be entirely dependent on your metaverse partnerships. Your professional network online could form the foundation of your metaverse business. The more metaverse GP’s linking to your metaverse pharmacy, the more referrals you get.
Of course this is conjecture right now. But based on the way the Internet works currently, it’s a realistic projection of how the metaverse could function.
So how far away is mainstream metaverse pharmacy?
For any metaverse going mainstream, it requires a few different technologies working together.
- Currency, being crypto or otherwise.
- NFTs (ownership of digital assets)
- Internet of Things
Whilst this tech is all in its infancy, it’s unlikely we’ll see mainstream adoption of metaverse. Healthcare is probably the last industry the metaverse will affect, since it’s so highly regulated.
But smartphones had issues when they first came out, and there’s no doubting the impact they’ve had on our world.
In 5-10 years, when these technologies develop, the metaverse will follow shortly after.
So should I…y’know…do something?
My personal advice for preparing for something like the Metaverse is treating it a bit like cryptocurrency.
- Being aware of its existence, and understanding potential consequences is fundamental.
- If you wanted to try and get in early, the potential returns could be massive. Imagine being the only fully operational metapharmacy, if prescriptions suddenly became able to be dispensed through the metaverse…
- However, caution is mandatory with such a rapidly shifting landscape. Investing thousands into a metaverse pharmacy only for the technology to change could render your entire investment worthless.
I think it’s a case of when, rather than if, pharmacies will enter the metaverse.
Understanding that you might need an entry plan at some point means that when the time comes, you’ll be readier than most.