Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare services just as it’s doing within the finance sector. Through a decentralized and encrypted network, the healthcare industry can share, store and distribute information easily and transparently, producing a streamlined system that is resistant to fraud. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2016, a Medicare fraud scheme cost around $30 million in losses. A report from U.S. health startup Color Space Post, a privately owned, consumer-led health company that’s leveraging blockchain technology to develop a new healthcare infrastructure, states that “blockchain technology could make a massive impact on both the administration costs and fraud.”
And yet, even though it’s still in its infancy within the healthcare industry, blockchain technology is already helping to transform it.
Healthcoin: The First Blockchain-Based, Globally Scalable Platform for Rewarding Prevention
Founded in 2016 by CEO Diego Espinosa and COO Nick Gogerty, Healthcoin, which won the award for best private blockchain at this month’s CoinAgenda in Puerto Rico, utilizes blockchain technology to allow employers, insurers, individuals and governments across the globe to manage people’s lifestyle change and incentivize the prevention of adult onset diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, latest figures show that in 2012, approximately 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes.
Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Espinosa said that Healthcoin originated when he reversed his borderline Type 2 diabetes. Despite living a healthy lifestyle — a low-fat diet and running 25 miles per week — he found his A1c kept going up. This is a blood test, also known as hemoglobin A1c or glycohemoglobin test, that provides information on a person’s average levels of blood glucose. A normal A1c level is less than 5.7 percent. Espinosa said that after deciding to experiment with a low carb and no sugar diet, he found his biomarkers went back to normal, which helped plant the seed for Healthcoin.
“When I saw my blood labs, the idea for Healthcoin was born: shifting the focus of prevention to ‘moving the needle’ on biomarkers as opposed to just measuring steps and other ‘inputs,’” he said.
Still in its pre-launch, Healthcoin will work by tokenizing measurable improvements in health. Espinosa says that users will submit their information through their doctor, employer, insurer biometric screening program or even health apps. As it is biomarker-based, Healthcoin takes in information relating to A1c, blood pressure and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which are precursors to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“When a user’s biomarkers improve, the blockchain issues them a token,” said Espinosa. “This token is equivalent to a ‘certificate of proven prevention.’”
By building a plug-and-play rewards and data analytics layer for prevention, Healthcoin is aiming to create a network that engages every level, from users to doctors and international health organizations to governments. Through blockchain technology, the network trades in a market for rewarding proven prevention readily, verifying when someone has prevented their disease over their lifetime.
Once launched, Espinosa says that employers and insurance companies can offer to pay users a pre-set reward for the tokens while the underlying biomarker database can be mined by the pharmaceutical industry to help in drug discovery.
“Healthcoin will shift the focus of healthcare to generating proven prevention outcomes,” he adds. “The goal is to have millions of people generating healthcoins across the globe and thus turn the tide on the diabetes epidemic.”
DeepMind Health: Bitcoin-Style Verifiable Data Audit
London-based DeepMind Health is planning to build out a new technology. Loosely sharing some of the same properties as blockchain technology, it is designing a system to track patients’ records in real-time, allowing clinicians to predict, diagnose and prevent serious illnesses.
Identified as the Verifiable Data Audit, the idea is to develop a digital ledger that will record what data has been used with DeepMind, claiming that the hospital remains in control.
According to the NHS Confederation, every 36 hours the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) deals with over one million patients. However, a report from the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper states that in 2016, over 205,000 medication errors were made in the prescribing, dispensing or administering of drugs throughout the NHS, and that medication errors are increasing by 6 percent a year.
DeepMind Health, which is collaborating with the London’s Royal Free Hospital, has created a kidney monitoring app. Called Streams, it is a clinical application that aims to improve care, directing clinicians to patients who are at risk of or have a serious condition of acute kidney injury (AKI).
In a blog post, DeepMind Co-Founder Mustafa Suleyman and Head of Security and Transparency Ben Laurie cite an example focusing on the Royal Free Hospital partnership to explain how the Verifiable Data Audit will work each time there has been any interaction with the data.
“Each time there’s any interaction with data, we’ll begin to add an entry to a special digital ledger. That entry will record the fact that a particular piece of data has been used, and also the reason why — for example, that blood test data was checked against the NHS national algorithm to detect possible acute kidney injury.”
They add that like blockchains the ledger will be append-only so that once a record of data use has been added, it can’t be removed. It will also ensure that third parties can determine whether entries have been tampered with.
However, it also differs from blockchains. According to Suleyman and Laurie, blockchain technology has some wastefulness associated with it, such as that most blockchains require participants to carry out complex calculations that involve high energy costs. Some estimates state that the energy used could be as much as the power consumption of Cyprus.
“This isn’t necessary when it comes to the health service, because we already have trusted institutions like hospitals or national bodies [that] can be relied on to verify the integrity of ledgers, avoiding some of the wastefulness of blockchain [technology],” they add.
DeepMind is also changing the “chain” part of blockchain technology and replacing it with a tree-like structure known as a Merkle tree or hash tree. Every time an entry is added to the ledger, it will produce a value known as a cryptographic hash, which recaps all entries made in the audit.
“Now we have an improved version of the humble audit log: a fully trustworthy, efficient ledger that we know captures all interactions with data, and which can be validated by a reputable third party in the healthcare community.”
In the long-term, the team is hoping to expand the system to individual patients or patient groups so that they can view how and where their data is being used.