Blockchain Solution To HealthCare Costs – Pay With Your Own Data

News | September 20, 2018 By:

In case you hadn’t noticed, healthcare in the United States is expensive. According to recent studies American citizens are forking out almost twice as much in healthcare bills than in other parts of the world, and receiving worse health outcomes.

And this isn’t just hurting average Joe, who is forced to pay through the nose for health coverage, and given very little control or flexibility over his own plans, treatments or data. Large nation-wide employers like Walmart, are increasingly having to look to new, technological options like TeleHealth, to provide affordable coverage to its 1.4 million employees too. But while Telehealth may offer a short-term fix, it is by no means a silver bullet.

The true end goal should be to provide Americans with all of the benefits of healthcare coverage in an affordable manner. One response, would be to enable Americans to benefit from their own healthcare data.

As it stands, healthcare providers hold a total monopoly over the data of their patients. However, as we enter the “robotic age” our data will become increasingly important to companies, scientists, marketers and others. And with demand comes opportunity. So how could emerging technologies, like the blockchain allow everyday Americans to really benefit, and even profit from, their healthcare data?

What’s going on with our healthcare data?

Do you know where your medical records are kept? It’s unlikely: approximately 63% of Americans have no idea where their sensitive health history is currently stored, or how to access it.

Under the Obama administration, the government tried to digitize healthcare records known as EHR (electronic healthcare records) to improve access and overall care. The process cost the federal government more than $26 billion, largely in incentive payments to hospitals and other healthcare facilities to encourage the sharing of electronic health data.

And while the EHR systems has became better integrated, the push only resulted in a small percentage of facilities actively making data available to patients. And years later, most consider the regulations to have been a failure: Most Americans still don’t have access to better service, still don’t have access to their own data and the data is benefitting other groups rather than patients.

The sad truth is that marketing firms, pharmaceutical companies and hackers are more likely to get access to medical records than patients are. And while it seems unbelievable, companies do not need patient consent to package and sell your medical data to the highest bidder. The practice is lucrative, and has evolved into a billion-dollar business of which the user doesn’t see a dime. Take for instance data brokers like IMS Health. The group is a dominant force in the medical data trading field and recorded $2.6 billion in revenue in 2014. Companies like this exist because patients don’t have legal ownership over their medical records in 49 states, with New Hampshire as the single exception.

Clearly the current status quo is flawed.

Where to next?

We are living in a data-driven world, in which individual users data is becoming more valuable, and the idea of users being paid for access to their data is becoming more commonplace.

Personal data is more than information in the current day and age, it is traded like a digital commodity. Perhaps people should think of their medical data in a similar way to their social media data, as what’s happening in both fields is remarkably similar: user data is sold off to the highest bidder. But forward thinking organizations like Swiss startup Datum are offering a means for users to take better control of their own data.

The network provides a place for users to share or sell their data on their own terms from platforms like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter. Essentially, it gives power back to the user to decide who has access to the data, while offering the choice to sell and make money from it. After all, on social media platforms, this practice is commonplace. Why not get in on the sale yourself?

This concept has taken on other forms in the world, from trading data for free coffee at a cafe in Japan to Lympo, a startup which is monetizing users data from doing sports and exercise, and rewarding them with sports goods, memberships etc.  

So with other types of data being monetized already, would it be possible to do so with our healthcare data?

Help your health with blockchain

So how could patients take back control of their health records? The blockchain, that’s how. The technology is becoming an increasingly popular way for people to bypass third-parties through the self-storage of sensitive data. As the blockchain is a distributed public ledger that is spread across a network, sensitive documents like health records can be recorded and stored in an unalterable, verifiable way, making it easier to avoid security breaches and potential abuses of powers.

And did we mention the financial gain? Health records are bought and sold for research, science and marketing purposes, so if users could choose to store their data on the blockchain, they could then decide how that data is sold, and for how much.

In this system users would host their information on a blockchain-powered data exchange and opt into a scheme where rewards are offered when the desired information is shared with companies. The dollar figure would depend on the information you are willing to sell and the company willing to buy, but the blockchain offers the technological framework which makes this possible.

This system could not only empower people to choose where their health information goes, but could theoretically go back toward medical bills and insurance. But to get to this stage, Americans need to start getting access to, and control of their own data. The next step is to cut out the billion-dollar middlemen, and profit from their own health data themselves.

Dr. Rishi Madhok and Bo Vargas co-founded BitMED, the Telehealth service that allows users to receive virtual medical attention in exchange for access to non-identifying data — making the service virtually free.