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Blockchain Technology for Patient Healthcare Data

Rapid urbanization, sedentary lifestyles, and rising stress due to technology-driven isolation are just some of the factors fueling an increase in chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. In China and India alone, 114 million and 69 million patients suffer from diabetes, respectively. Globally, 415 million people suffer diabetes, and this number is expected to rise in coming years.

At the same time, the number of trained physicians like diabetologists are in acute short supply, healthcare costs are skyrocketing, and patients’ expectations from healthcare providers are changing rapidly. All these factors are spurring tech entrepreneurs to understand the unique intricacies of business and clinical workflows across the healthcare value chain. Artificial intelligence, telemedicine, virtual care, chatbots, and voice user interfaces are some of the ways health tech entrepreneurs are trying to improve patient access to healthcare workers and make a physician’s clinical practice more scalable.

However, as of today, the innovations in health tech systems are still missing two key components. One, the current solutions do not create personalized reward programs for patients adhering to their care plan. For example, if an insurer rewards a patient for taking 5,000 steps daily, there isn’t an effective way to personalize a reward program based on the individual’s current or near-term mobility options. Or, if a therapist asks a client to reduce his or her social media exposure for mental well-being, the individual isn’t incentivized and rewarded properly for reducing time spent on social media apps. Two, patients are not the sole custodians of their health data. Their health data resides on data islands in hospital EMR systems, primary care physician files, pharmacy systems, and so on, when they should have the ability to control access to their healthcare data, or be able to share their personal health data anonymously with innovators like AI scientists and medical researchers. Blockchain can be used to alleviate these problems.

Blockchain Technology Solutions

Patients can opt in to share device and health cloud data over a public blockchain like Ethereum. Patient data, in conjunction with smart contracts, can be used to generate or mine tokens for patients. Tokens can then be mined when patients follow their personalized clinical protocols and care plan. The payment in form of tokens can be disbursed to patient’s wallets, and be traded on blockchain exchanges for fiat currency. Tokens can also be directly used to cover the cost of care and insurance for hospitals and insurers that accept tokens. Tokenizing personalized health outcomes this way grants patients the freedom to spend their tokens anywhere while also incentivizing them to proactively engage in improving their clinical outcomes.

Using blockchain, patients can also become true owners of their data. They can sign off transactions using their private keys and grant access to their data to other parties like AI innovators and medical researchers. Level of access, time period, and removing personal health information like name, phone, and email can be configured by patients via smart contracts, while granting access to healthcare data. Patients can then be paid tokens automatically for sharing health data. This is useful for the entire ecosystem. Patients can be paid to share their health data anonymously, and huge volumes of healthcare data can be used by AI and medical researchers to drive innovations, discover precision medicines, and better understand disease aetiology. 

Patients can also choose to donate part of their earned tokens to hospitals and insurers, who in turn can use these funds to treat indigent patients. This can be one way of crowdsourcing care subsidy programs for the most needy population segments in our society. In fact, patients can opt in for programs where 10% of tokens earned can be used to sponsor tokens for care subsidy programs. 

Smart contracts built on blockchain are completely auditable and transparent. Anyone can view the code and understand business rules for disbursement of tokens. This is a far cry from centralized systems where rules and algorithms by tech companies that dictate almost every facet of human transaction are not open for public scrutiny. Enabling storage of patient health record on blockchain will be an effective way to reduce cost of healthcare, lend more transparency to sharing patient data, and, above all, do social good for the poor sections of society.


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