Marcel Thom is Managing Director of Accenture.
Mr. Thom, companies like Nike and JP Morgan already have branches in the Metaverse. Will there soon be digital Swica or Helsana counters?
Marcel Thomas: If the Metaverse develops further, then there will also be a Swica or Helsana branch. Interesting questions arise for health insurers. For example, how do you deal with drug prescriptions or reimbursements? Of course, these companies must also assume their role as healthcare partners in the metaverse. Until then, a lot has to happen in the Metaverse, at the moment it’s only the first jumps.
What benefits do health insurers or healthcare companies see in the Metaverse?
What you can already do now are psychiatric treatments such as the so-called aversion therapies. However, the metaverse also opens up other channels for interacting with doctors. For example, after operations, they can use their virtual reality glasses to assess how the patient’s healing process is progressing. The Balgrist Hospital in Zurich also uses this principle: experts from all over the world can use VR glasses to assist in operations. Training scenarios can also be easily reproduced in the Metaverse. Body parts from the deceased are then no longer needed, for example when treating complex fractures. Another very important area is digital twins. Your own avatar is fed with personal health data to simulate the effects of medication.
Doctor and patient can then be in two different places. Personal trust is very important, especially when it comes to medical treatment. Isn’t too much technology a deterrent?
That’s the way it is, people want to be in contact with their doctor. But there are exceptions. On the one hand, the Covid pandemic has shown us that people are willing to be digitally examined, especially if they have minor complaints. The second exception is serious cases. After surgery or chemotherapy, the immune system is very weak. Every visit to the hospital is extremely risky. It can be advantageous to conduct the debriefing digitally. In these cases, you already know the doctor personally. If the expert who can save their life is abroad, people are also happy if a “stranger” can help digitally.
Virtual reality glasses are still quite unwieldy devices. What steps towards usability still need to be made?
For the Metaverse experience to be truly compelling, the glasses need to evolve. Current VR glasses are too heavy to wear all day. However, the technology will develop quickly.
Data protection is also an important issue in the healthcare sector. Doesn’t the loss of control increase with increasing digitization?
Of course, when you collect more and more data, there is a risk. There are ways to better protect data, but this is often not done. Cyber attacks can only be slowed down, but not prevented entirely. In the field of digitization, however, things are always over-dramatized. Patient data at the doctor’s on paper can also be lost or fall into the wrong hands. Don’t demonize the technology.
Metaverse is a very broad term that stands for platforms from different companies. Should the Swiss healthcare industry develop its own solutions, or should it be better to work together with the big players?
There will be various interconnected platforms. A Swiss solution that ends at the national borders makes no sense. Rather, there will be Swiss websites that can be accessed from all over the world.
How does the Swiss healthcare industry compare to other countries when it comes to digitization?
Switzerland is certainly not the leader here and is not overly dominant in comparison to its German-speaking neighbors. Switzerland, with its small population and great prosperity, could actually be in the lead. There are good start-ups, but money is not being pumped into digitization to the same extent in this country as, for example, in America, India, China or England. The fax machines in Swiss hospitals, which were used again during the Corona period, were not good ID.
Would you like more government incentives to remedy Switzerland’s backwardness in the area of digitization?
I don’t think that the state should act alone, but the Confederation should provide incentives for research in particular. The state must provide financial support for innovations and new systems, set clear rules and create interfaces.
Large companies in particular often find it difficult to deal with changes and digitalization. Are Swiss companies in the healthcare sector willing to invest time and money in new technologies?
The money is definitely there. Healthcare costs in Switzerland are constantly increasing, so there is a motivation for change. Many pharmaceutical companies also operate internationally and have to keep up with foreign competition. But is the pressure so great that the Swiss healthcare industry has to change immediately? We are still resting on our prosperity and our hitherto very good medical system. Unfortunately, due to the existing excellent infrastructure, new technologies are only seen as an additional medium.
At the moment Metaverse and Co. are just an additional channel. In how many years will they be standard?
Telemedicine went through the roof during the Corona crisis. But that was a special case. It will be some time before the Metaverse becomes the standard for medical examinations, as the technology is simply not advanced enough at the moment. It will be faster for individual, simple clinical pictures, but operations will probably continue to be carried out physically for the time being (laughs).