Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are used in a variety of new applications – including in healthcare. Fintech startups are the catalyst for many of these latest market innovations – and they don’t just focus on the banking and financial services sectors. While funding is required for individuals and organizations of all sizes, it can both be difficult to access. However, recent advances in fintech suggest that this inequality can be addressed by capturing the market value of data and reusing it as a payable “currency”. This radically new concept of decentralized funding (DeFi) is being taken seriously by many, including health officials.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, which shows the importance of having access to quality health care and the inadequate access to it in some parts of the world due to poverty and other factors, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) are currently investigating in Dominique Vervoort et al. BMJ Innovations article “Blockchain, health disparities and global health”, how the barriers to access to health care can be overcome.
Vervoort and his co-authors Camila R. Guetter and Alexander W. Peters to write: “Global health disparities remain large and are sustained by error-prone information technology systems, administrative inefficiencies and wasteful global health spending. Blockchain technology, a novel, distributed peer-to-peer ledger technology, is increasingly being used in various industries to disintermediate, improve efficiency and transparency, and reduce costs; however, its use in healthcare and global health has remained limited. “
In their article, they argue that there are ways to use blockchain technology “in global health related to cryptocurrencies and health funding, supply chain management, health records, identification and verification, telemedicine and misinformation”. They argue that it should be used to mitigate the health care impact and inequalities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic in particular.
Dr. David Putrino and Dr. Jamie Wood are health technology innovators in one of the largest hospital systems in the United States. Your job is to research new technologies that will lead to disruptive innovations in healthcare. In keeping with this vision, they are partnering with Decentr, an EU blockchain startup that is creating a digital currency backed by the value of the data stored in their ecosystem.
The aim is to explore the development of a variety of technologies in conjunction with Decentr’s own pipeline; with everything from simple decentralized communication tools to reimagined clinical and research systems that incorporate data as value. They include platforms that enable patients to leverage the value of their anonymized data and more easily contribute to large clinical trials that are often inaccessible to the majority of eligible participants.
Dr. Putrino explains, “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented surge in patient-led research, highlighting both patient desire to be more actively involved in clinical research and the value of this approach,” in the sense of a quick one Discovery. The technologies developed in the Decentr pipeline have the potential to empower millions of patients who would like to bring their data to clinical trials. Similarly, this can give clinicians and researchers the opportunity to leverage their own data value and health and science collaboration to leverage alternative funding streams for ongoing research and development. “
However, privacy can be an obstacle. Rich James, CCO of Decentr, comments with reference to GDPR and HIPAA:
“The healthcare industry has a problem with ensuring that the exchange of health information (HIE) is secure, efficient and interoperable: blockchain technology shows promise to help with this. With the help of blockchain-coded medical records, patients can give doctors immediate access to all of their life records from their own smartphone, thus closing the potentially life-threatening gaps in data from one doctor’s practice to another. Blockchain will give medical researchers access to data and usher in a new era in AI-driven personalized medicine; This in turn saves costs, significantly reduces medical errors and leads to incredible innovations in this area. “
Deloitte’s report, ‘Blockchain: Opportunities for Healthcare: A New Model for Sharing Health Information‘adds, “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform health care, put the patient at the center of the health ecosystem, and increase the security, privacy and interoperability of health data.”
Cost reduction data
Decentr, in collaboration with Drs. Putrino and Wood see this as the future of healthcare and aim to create a platform to securely store and share patient data in the chain while extracting the market value from this data to reduce the cost of medical and scientific research by health care providers, and ultimately the cost of patient care.
Dr. Wood says, “We have long supported research into strategies to decentralize the exchange of scientific knowledge, clinical information and technology because we believe in the profound impact this can have on healthcare and humanity.”
Dr. Wood believes the way information is shared and the process that patients and research participants are involved in is a bit broken and out of date. The existing technologies available to many health systems are not helping to solve the problems they are facing. Faced with this broader problem, he turned to Decentr to help realize his vision, which is partly in line with the goal of closing inequalities in access to health care.
James notes that current technologies do not fully meet these requirements as they are subject to constraints on security, privacy, and full ecosystem interoperability. He claims these are all issues that Decentr addresses as part of a system. He explains how this affects the work of Drs. Putrino and Wood:
“It is encouraging to see that seasoned healthcare executives can see the potential of our work at Decenr by making secure, immutable, end-to-end encrypted data more widely available in the chain that has the potential to add something quality in health systems and improving health outcomes. The basic problem at the moment – despite the seeming ubiquity of technology and the internet – with regard to communication and technology systems in healthcare, it is still very difficult and never happens, for example, medical team A in city B knows what medical team C is doing it in City D – even if they were treating the same cause or disease and would benefit from the real-time exchange of information without exception. “
He says there isn’t a widespread information system to share this information and argues that with the current infrastructure, doing so would create potential security and privacy issues. Therefore, it is safer for practitioners not to bother to share them and keep them working in isolation from each other. This requires the creation of a single, robust, and secure platform to encrypt patient and other data to make information more accessible for research and patient care.
Data becomes currency
Drs. Putrino and Wood are excited about the potential of Decentr’s technology to address some of the root causes of health inequalities. In the traditional health care ecosystem, patients with complex medical needs are often significantly disadvantaged in access to affordable care. However, by turning personal data into something of value, there is the potential to enable these patients to use their data in ways that benefit them directly. This can create a really circular data economy.
James explains that Drs. Putrino and Wood were drawn to the idea because they both believe that the use of data on some form of currency “is a key mechanism to meet health needs and general inefficiencies in any industry”.
Unfortunately, keeping people healthy in the current global market and economic system, which requires ever-growing GDP, is often viewed as unprofitable. To illustrate this, James comments that 10% of UK GDP was spent on health spending in 2018, up from 9.8% in 2017, while U.S. health spending rose and reached 4.6% in 2019 $ 3.8 trillion.
He argues that while the healthcare industry “Ironically, by continuing to accumulate as many naturally worthless “third currency units” (such as fiat currencies) as possible, it is to the benefit of a “healthy” economy that we all get sicker. Nobody is going to give up what is effective 17.7 percent of US GDP just to make the population healthier. “
Affordable research and maintenance
James believes that a data currency turns this “perverse practice” on its head by improving the security, quality, and immutability of the data and the underlying system. This, in turn, can lead to better and more effective patient treatments and outcomes that can contribute to these data. This creates the possibility of conducting and offering research and supply more cost-effectively.
By making data a currency, there are also ways to inspire data generation and ensure that the reuse and sharing of that data is not only fair and equitable, but also funded from a source that is part of a true circular economy and not a goal in and of itself. Fintech can therefore meet and help the healthcare system in many ways.
By Graham Jarvis, freelance business and technology journalist