By 2020, 1-in-5 healthcare orgs will adopt blockchain; here’s why

Blockchain lets the healthcare industry exchange data in a standard format, automate complex processes and apply AI against large silos of medical data. It might even allow patients to sell their data for rewards.

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Separate from its work with Mayo Clinic, Medicalchain is preparing to pilot a telemedicine application based on Hyperledger blockchain in four clinics in London. Groves Medical Group will be the first.

This month, registered patients at Groves will be able to create a free cryptowallet that will hold and manage access to their health records. Through the platform, physicians will be able to perform consultations with patients – and the patients will have the option to pay for telemedicine services with MedTokens.

Blockchain will also protect a medical record from being tampered with for nefarious purposes, such as a patient prescribing their own medications, according to Mohammed Tayeb, co-founder and chief operating officer of Medicalchain.

At the same time, that kind of health record storage system can be controlled by the one person who today typically has the least oversight: the patient.

"The idea is when we travel around we have lots of information we carry with us," Tayeb said. "On our phones we carry photos, contacts, access to bank accounts, email and access to other various files. But people don't typically carry their medical records, and those can be lifesaving, especially if someone has a chronic illness. Today, medical records are stored in silos, and there are different copies of those medical records at different healthcare facilities."

Along with Medicalchain, start-ups MintHealth, Patientory, and Hashhealth are also building data-sharing networks with either tokenized incentives or the prospect of new revenue streams from initial coin offerings (ICOs) tied to patient information in blockchain repositories.

Last year, MIT created an Ethereum blockchain-based proof of concept called MedRec, which was tested at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston as a way to use smart contracts to pull in patient data from hospital data stores; patients were given the authority to securely share that data with whatever physician they chose.

Blockchain networks aggregating data for research

Another blockchain proof-of-concept called BreastWeCan, enables women to securely share mammogram images and related clinical reports with medical researchers.

Two companies that have partnered to create a blockchain-based marketplace for data sharing are San Francisco-based blockchain start-up Nebula Genomics and Hong Kong-based Longenesis. Longenesis uses AI to analyze stored health data while Nebula sequences a participant's DNA and then stores that genomic data on a blockchain ledger.

Their stated goal is to create a new economy where people can routinely profit from selling their anonymized genomic and health record data.

Users can opt in to upload their genetic data and rent it to medical researchers. Because of its huge value to researchers and pharmaceutical companies in developing new drugs, individuals who upload the largest amount of biological data to the platform, especially data captured over time, are likely to be compensated financially more than others, according to the Nebula Genomics.

"Recent advances in science and technology already allow us to transform human life data such as blood tests and genomic data into life saving products and services," Alex Zhavoronkov, CSO of Longenesis, said in a statement. "Hence life data can help extend productive longevity, improve productivity, reduce healthcare costs and contribute to economic growth."

Another company, SimplyVital Health, has developed two products based on blockchain, one for tracking patients after they've been treated and the other enabling them to share data for reward tokens.

SimplyVital's ConnectingCare is a blockchain network for tracking post-hospitalization patient care, creating an immutable audit trail for insurance companies and federal Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements. And the company's Health Nexus is an Ethereum-based blockchain ledger for exchanging patient EHR data between providers while also enabling patients to sell their anonymized health data to anyone they want – and redeem tokens as a reward.

Health Nexus opens up the possibility that patients can sell their medical information to medical research facilities, something insurance companies already do and from which they turn huge profits, according to SimplyVital CEO Kat Kuzmeskas.

SimplyVital Health Health Nexus SimplyVital Health

Health Nexus is an Ethereum-based ledger for exchanging patient EHR data that lets patients sell their anonymized health data and redeem tokens in exchange.

"Despite all the HIPAA regulations, your health data can also be utilized without your permission and for profit if it is anonymized," Kuzmeskas said. (It's anonymized by removing any personally identifiable information such as names, addresses and social security numbers.)

By becoming a basic infrastructure for anonymized healthcare information, Health Nexus hopes to become the de facto marketplace and matchmaking service for individuals, healthcare providers and researchers.

"You get to determine who you share it with. How much you get all depends on the marketplace. To put that in perspective, one oncology record for one patient sells for $1,500," Kuzmeshas said.

IDC's Shegewi cautioned that there are currently no established blockchain health data exchanges, and there are still security challenges to work through, even when it comes to supposedly anonymized patient data.

In spite of stripping data of its personally identifiable information, Shegewi explained, data marketplaces still have to use some form of a sequence to map the data to its origin. That sequence pattern, which they need in order to look at a patient over time, is as close to identifying a patient without their actual personal information.

"In other words, a truly anonymized record does not really exist," he said.

Though blockchain holds the promise of easing, if not outright solving, a variety of heathcare industry problems, "I don't see [it] as a silver bullet," he said.

"Blockchain in healthcare in general is not just about interoperability, but it will be in support of particular use cases," he continued. "But when and where data needs to be distributed, immutable and interchangeable, blockchain will eventually be there."

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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