The big picture

While the metaverse is all about leveraging the immersive experience of the virtual world, the programmable world is about building the next version of the physical world in healthcare.

Now, as the real-world impact of the current digital revolution begins to hit critical mass, we are embarking on the next major transformation: The programmable world. In this world, control, customization and automation will be enmeshed in the environment around us. People will have unprecedented ability to command the world to meet their individual needs, deciding what they see, interact with and experience with greater ease and fidelity than ever before.

When digital capabilities are woven into the very fabric of the world, the physical world becomes as smart, customizable and programmable as we expect the digital one to be. Once people can frictionlessly interact with their environment, this can transform healthcare as clinicians and healthcare workers will be able to interact with people in new ways across physical and virtual realms while improving environmental sustainability.

When digital capabilities are woven into the very fabric of the world, the physical world becomes as smart, customizable and programmable as we expect the digital one to be.

The analysis: The three layers of the programmable world

To meet our new expectations for digital conveniences and environmental sustainability, healthcare enterprises will need a deep understanding of three layers that comprise the programmable world: The connected, the experiential and the material.

Many healthcare enterprises are already investing in and deploying the first layer of programmable world technology, creating a connected foundation. For instance, 80% of the healthcare executives we surveyed say the number of IoT/edge devices deployed in their organization has "significantly" or “exponentially” increased in the past three years. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge of digital innovation to help providers safely deliver care to people virtually. Now the virtual world is a more comfortable space for people to receive and deliver care—and they are ready to delve in further.

The next layer of the programmable world is experiential.
It has the ability to sense and change its own characteristics. Building on data collected by IoT and edge devices and processed at 5G speeds, digital twins are a core constituent of this layer. These digital models of the physical world give healthcare organizations real-time insight into their environments and operations and can transform people’s healthcare experiences in them.

The final layer of the programmable world is material and constitutes how things are made.
It includes a new generation of digital manufacturing and smart materials, which will bring programmability into the physical aspects of our environments. Advances in digital manufacturing techniques are changing how and where physical goods can be made, making on-demand and hyper-customized products a reality in healthcare.

But being able to produce custom devices, tools, prostheses and tissues on demand is only half of this material layer. New kinds of smart materials and programmable matter will soon make it possible to customize or enable custom experiences with physical products after production as well.


of healthcare executives report the number of IoT/edge devices deployed in their organizations significantly or exponentially increased over the past three years.

Things to look out for: Challenges connecting the programmable world

Healthcare executives believe emerging programmable world technologies will have a positive impact in the future. But there are significant challenges to connecting these technologies safely and at scale—data interoperability and cyber security.

Most healthcare organizations aren’t going to develop these technologies in-house, so access to and interoperability between different companies’ products will be key. Also, as the healthcare industry scales up programmable world projects, it will be introducing many more connected, intelligent devices which create new entry points connecting our physical and digital worlds. Each of these entry points opens possibilities for innovation and new kinds of patient experiences, but each also creates potential risk. Significantly, risks to cyber security and data privacy will not be relegated to the digital world but will have serious consequences in the physical world, too.

Actions to take: Full stack programmability

Beyond the fundamentals of data interoperability across digital and physical environments, becoming a healthcare leader in the programmable world will require exploration, experimentation and development across all three layers. It’s time to start working toward "full stack" programmability.

Level up the foundational, connected layer

5G is poised to be transformational in terms of its speed and low latency, but rollouts are still in the works. By the end of 2021, Ericsson estimated that 5G networks would cover only about 25% of the global population.3,4

Get involved with industry-wide alliances

To have trustworthy data, healthcare organizations need the right channel, source, policies and governance in place. Join in consortiums and industry standards groups to shape governance, data interoperability and cyber security standards.

Bridge digital and physical worlds

Over time, digital twins will become the engine for every healthcare enterprise’s programmable world strategy, letting them invent products, design experiences and run their organizations in ways that would have been unimaginable years ago.

Explore future technologies on the material layer

Partnerships with startups and universities are a good way to make certain you are staying right at the forefront of real-world technology innovation. As this space is still budding, it is critical that leaders test and learn new material layer technologies like 3D printing and smart materials and revise the way they consider ROI.

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About the Authors

Brian Kalis

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy Lead, Health

Jenica McHugh

Managing Director – Technology Strategy, Global

Kaveh Safavi

Senior Managing Director – Consulting, Global Health

Andrew Truscott

Managing Director – Health, Technology Lead, Global


Accenture Digital Health Technology Vision 2021
The ultimate healthcare experience: Global Report

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