Wearable technology has engulfed our society and along with it given birth to a new amount of individual health information.
From sleeping, eating or how many cups of coffee we had before our CrossFit class, tech giants like Samsung, Google and Apple wearables are gobbling up our data like a first-world buffet.
This information is likely being included in Electronic Health Records with the goal of creating some sort of a personalized virtual health assistant.
In the past decade, almost $36 billion in government spending was allocated to revamp Electronic Health Records or EHRs systems, which are basically real-time, patient-centered records that make information available instantly and securely to authorized users.
However, when President Donald Trump started tweeting about hydroxychloroquine as “one of the biggest game-changers" for treating COVID-19, doctors thought they would be able to check EHRs to see if he was correct or not.
This wasn’t the case.
Doctors couldn’t even give concrete answers about the symptoms of COVID-19, how it spread, who was most susceptible, and what was the best way to treat it.
A reason for this could have been a major lack of interoperability or integration between hospital EHRs.
Seema Verma, former chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversaw the EHR effort was asked about the lack of interoperability between systems, “We didn’t think about how all these systems could connect with one another. That was the real missing piece.”
The EHR market is fragmented with Epic and Cerner taking the biggest chunks at 28 and 26 percent.
And when the time came time to pool data from the digital records in thousands of hospitals during the pandemic it was almost impossible
These rival systems couldn’t retrieve or share information to identify which treatments were helping patients recover
These EHRs are just software. And software can either be server-based (physical servers present at the hospital) or cloud-based (Amazon, Google, Microsoft).
So not only did that hinder information sharing but also increased privacy and confidentiality concerns during a crisis where excuses for emergency procedures and lack of controls took the wheel.
A recent publication found that over half the population in the USA might have been affected by security breaches of Health Records since October 2009.
Well one thing is for sure, we confronted a global pandemic with technology that just isn’t being leveraged correctly, but as MIT reports – we finally have (some) centralized medical data.
Fortunately, however, the pandemic has shone a light on the term centralization and sent the adoption of new technologies into warp speed.
One of these technologies, blockchain – the underlying technology Bitcoin uses, has seen an adoption that most blockchain and crypto enthusiasts didn’t think would happen for another 5-10 years.
We are now hearing terms like be your own bank and seeing countries adopt blockchain and crypto into their social and economic channels
But blockchain isn’t only about controlling your finance with cryptographic peer-to-peer transfers around the globe.
It's also about control of personal property - including data, transparency of information, and accountability.
And it has flooded the minds of future generations that witnessed a social media company de-platform a President of the United States of America.
This is what happens with centralized systems.
According to Mark Fenwick a professor at Kyushu University - Graduate School of Law:
So how could this simple yet complex technology help the health sector achieve interoperability and sovereignty of patient information post-COVID?
If you're new to blockchain, you can think of it as a distributed ledger that cannot be changed and is out of the hands of one central point of access.
On top of blockchain, you can build decentralized applications or DApps – which are basically applications that have unique ID’s that allow for full anonymity - and from them, you can invoke transactions to and from the blockchain.
The idea here would be for a decentralized health care blockchain that would serve as the trustless middle layer where patients can have full control of their health records all the while authorized health practitioners can view and update them.
And as it is decentralized it removes the central point of failure that centralized servers have and returns privacy and confidentiality to patients.
Its as simple as this, Jimmy has gone to Hospital A his entire life
He then suddenly breaks his leg playing soccer and goes to Hospital B for care – Hospital B wouldn’t have to ask Hospital A for his medical records anymore, and simply from his phone, Jimmy could create a transaction to send the needed medical records to Hospital B by verifying his identity with a fingerprint ID.
And that’s another aspect being leveraged by blockchain which is identification. How can hospitals be sure that Jimmy is who he says he is? In some countries, they still have paper ID health care cards and in others – they don’t even have any.
And to go one step further, when you show your ID or Drivers license at the liquor store, for example, do you really need to show all your information? Why not just show your picture and date of birth?
That’s something else that can be done by Jimmy when sending his medical records. He can choose what is sent.
Okay, but how about a use case in a pandemic?
Let’s say that Jimmy contracted COVID early on and was given a specific medication of which he logged in his symptoms in his DApp throughout the entire infection period
An unchangeable record of his battle with COVID would be registered on the blockchain
And with proper regulations in place, his information could have been easily shared and analyzed in an anonymous way by all health care practitioners
and helped them to see what treatments were working against the virus
Interoperability is at the core of blockchain and the healthcare system needs to adopt new ways of moving forward that are based on trust and accountability.
All in all, blockchain is about returning the power back to the people, and COVID could have been the call everyone was waiting for.