Metaverse, insurance, and mental health. The new new thing.

Metaverse, insurance, and mental health. The new new thing.

As enterprises are heading towards the metaverse, emerging technology is on the rise for the healthcare industry, covering mental health risks.

SOSA editorial team
July 2022

Service providers are the latest industry penetrating the new buzzword, soon to be mainstream, metaverse. In parallel to Facebook's rebranding announcement in October 2021, big tech, major retailers, and telecommunications are already moving into the multiverse, the extended reality space, realizing there is an opportunity for business value, brand recognition, and monetization.

The new new reality post COVID
Post COVID-19, the metaverse seems to be a natural response to consumers' market needs - from people working from home to having the world at your doorstep with a tap of a button.

"Internet searches for the term "metaverse" rose 7200% in 2021. Those aren't media mentions. That's individual curiosity, a clear signal of how much people want to understand the term."

- McKinsey & Company

Photo by XR Expo

Today the metaverse still seems like an online amusement park for games and something similar to what we once knew from SimCity™. Pixelated sidewalks and flashing neon signs for shoe stores and diners, a place to escape reality. However, it is becoming the new normal sooner than later, a step up from the average web-surfing experience, kicking it up a notch.

Metaverse rising on all fronts
In 2021, the global metaverse market size stood at 38.85 billion U.S. dollars. In 2022, this is expected to rise to 47.48 billion U.S. dollars before surging to 678.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2030. The growth over the decade is 17.5 times.

Source: SOSA based on Grand View Research, 2022
"In 2021, the global metaverse market size stood at 38.85 billion U.S. dollars. In 2022, this is expected to rise to 47.48 billion U.S. dollars before surging to 678.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2030. The growth over the decade is 17.5 times".

Offline and online customer potential and challenges
As the metaverse becomes an alternate reality, we will create, own, store, buy and sell digital assets. This in turn, will attract businesses to dive right into it, harnessing it as new geography to research, explore, and stake their claim. Here, businesses will be able to encourage new and more commercial interaction with other enterprises discovering this new frontier. On the other end of the spectrum, even more significant, businesses will be able to create, promote, and grow customer interaction.

Photo by Patrick Schneider

But it's not all fun, games, and monkey NFTs. There are challenges, as in every emerging technology platform. Researchers are already predicting risk (source: The Metaverse & Insurance - Pixel Perfect?); for example:
Long-term health and mental health issues due to hand, eye, brain coordination, and physical conditions.
Addiction yielding uncertain employment retainment.
Online dispute resolution difficulties since no resolute regulation just yet.
Asset loss, deletion, and theft of digital material.

Photo by Photo by Bret Kavanaugh

Digital and tangible threats for companies and their customers
When individuals and corporations navigate and operate in the metaverse while seizing opportunities to branch out, they encounter threats in the following categories:
Potential misuse of personal data
Digital assets
Physical and mental health
Risk control and management

Personal assets, whether they are personal data or digital assets, take shape through a wide variety of online data. For example, the virtual real estate sector is expected to grow to over $1.9 billion in sales in 2022 alone. 

Almost 60% of consumers prefer at least one activity in the virtual world compared to physical alternatives.

Source: SOSA based on McKinsey & Company, Value creation in the metaverse, June 2022
"Almost 60% of consumers prefer at least one activity in the virtual world compared to physical alternatives".

Taking a step back from the intangible digital assets, charting the waters of the metaverse calls for a particular physical and mental behavior, a source of potential harm due to physical and mental injuries. For instance, extended periods of staring at screens and stagnant sitting are causes of obesity and musculoskeletal and cardiovascular complications today, which is likely to increase as we become even more digitally reliant for personal and professional interactions.

Mental wellness harm as an outcome of metaverse immersion
Researching implications on mental health, studies are already showing a strong link between heavy social media use to increased risk for depression, anxiety, and loneliness leading to self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. While the initial sense is that going digital may provide enjoyment and some stress relief, the longer-term effects replace real life with a 'perfect world,' snowballing to even more loneliness and isolation. Scientists are hypothesizing that this will only increase with the metaverse.

Enter healthcare technology into the metaverse
For the last few years, amplified more so by COVID, technology has altered, not necessarily for the worse, how we obtain professional services, health assistance and even the much-needed support of our community. This is also the case for mental health apps and their demand with the rise of virtual reality. 

The players within the healthcare industry recognized that online presence could be a win-win for the industry and its consumers. Going digital extends health care providers' reach, saves money, and simplifies legacy processes. Some examples are: delivering medical services online such as diagnosing minor ailments or mental wellbeing via chat and video, Digital Twining, a virtual simulation model for patients to test different therapies, and even virtual hospitals to provide all primary treatments and save time and money on in-person visitation and brick and mortar infrastructure.

Health insurance sweeps in to cover mental health concerns
Innovation leaders within the insurance sector, a domain essential to the healthcare field, identified a fresh collaboration opportunity to step in and offer coverage for individuals active in the metaverse, and rightfully so. Not necessarily an original idea, but mimicking other insurance channels, like car insurers

Individuals and corporations navigating and operating in the metaverse can now be insured while seizing opportunities to branch out through its discrete channels. Not only for the deep, engrained online assets but for the physical and mental wellbeing of those immersed in them.

It's time all traditional health insurance providers reassess their offering to redefine how their policies adhere to physical and mental health issues emerging from metaverse involvement IRL (in real life).

Photo by Carlos Muza

Next, the insurance industry will need to figure out how to help and protect virtual residents - from compensation loss to incentives for metaverse occupants to mitigate risk in the digital sphere. 

Because the risks of the metaverse metamorphoses are still mostly unknown, the insurance industry will benefit from developing ways to help virtual residents primarily prevent risk.

What insurers can do now, as they wait to see how the metaverse evolves, is start scouting for advanced technologies to help them build better offerings for their clientele and promote growth for their company. Through open innovation, they can scout, validate, and implement the right products and services to get a leg up in the process.  

Read more about advanced technologies in insurance in the Mental health & insurance spotlight report and book a consult with us to discuss your open innovation needs.

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