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When Fintech Meets Healthcare: How can cryptocurrencies and blockchain improve access to healthcare?

The use of cryptocurrencies and the technology behind blockchains is expanding to a broad variety of new applications, one of which is in the medical industry. Fintech start-ups are the driving force behind many of the latest advancements in the market, and they aren’t limited to concentrating on the banking and financial services industry alone. Both individuals and organisations of any size can have trouble gaining access to the essential financial resources, despite the fact that both must have them. However, recent developments in financial technology imply that this difference can be narrowed by capturing the value that the market places on data and then repurposing it as a form of currency that can be paid out. This revolutionary new notion of decentralised financing (DeFi) is one that many people, even those in administrative positions within the healthcare industry, are beginning to take seriously.

In light of the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how important it is to have access to high-quality healthcare, and in light of the fact that access to it in some parts of the world is lacking due to poverty and other factors, publications such as the British Medical Journal (BMJ) are currently investigating how the barriers to healthcare access can be overcome in the article “Blockchain, health disparities and global health” that was published in the BMJ Innovations journal by Dominique Vervoort et al.

According to Vervoort and his co-authors Camila R Guetter and Alexander W Peters, who wrote the following: “Health inequities remain huge over the world and are perpetuated by error-prone information technology systems, administrative inefficiencies, and wasted global health spending,” However, its implementation in healthcare and global health has remained limited. Blockchain technology is a unique, distributed peer-to-peer ledger system. It is increasingly employed in numerous industries to disintermediate, enhance efficiency and transparency, and cut costs.

In their article, the authors argue that there are opportunities to leverage blockchain technology “in global health in terms of cryptocurrencies and health financing, supply chain management, health records, identification and verification, telehealth, and misinformation.” [C]ryptocurrencies and health financing, supply chain management, health records, identification and verification, telehealth, and misinformation are all They propose that it should be utilised in order to assist offset the impact that the COVID-19 epidemic has had on healthcare and the inequities that have resulted from it.

Innovative approaches to medical treatment

Both Dr. David Putrino and Dr. Jamie Wood are considered to be leaders in the field of medical technology innovation at one of the most extensive hospital networks in the United States. They have been tasked with investigating new technologies that have the potential to bring about transformative improvements in the medical field. In accordance with this aim, they have begun working along with Decentr, a blockchain business based in the European Union that is developing a digital currency that will be supported by the value of the data that is held within their ecosystem.

The objective is to investigate the possibility of developing a number of different technologies in tandem with Decentr’s existing pipeline. These technologies could range from straightforward decentralised communication tools all the way up to re-imagined clinical and research systems that incorporate data as value. They include systems that make it possible for patients to capitalise on the value of their data once it has been anonymized and to more easily participate in large-scale clinical trials, which are typically unavailable to the majority of participants who are eligible to take part.

Dr. Putrino has the following to say: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an unprecedented surge in patient-led research. This highlights both the appetite of patients to be more actively involved in clinical research as well as the value of this approach in terms of rapid discovery.” The technologies that are being developed as part of the Decentr pipeline have the potential to provide millions of patients who are ready to submit their data to clinical trials more agency. In a similar vein, this may create chances for doctors and researchers to leverage alternate streams of funding for ongoing research and development by utilising their own data value and collaborations within the health and science fields.

However, the protection of personal data can be a barrier. The Chief Compliance Officer at Decentr, Rich James, had the following to say about GDPR and HIPAA:

“The healthcare industry faces a challenge in ensuring that health information exchanges (HIE) are secure, efficient, and interoperable; blockchain technology offers a lot of potential in helping with this problem. Patients will be able to instantly grant doctors access to their entire life’s records from their own Smartphones using blockchain-encoded medical records. This will eliminate the potentially life-threatening gaps in data that exist from one doctor’s office to another. Patients will be able to use blockchain-encoded medical records. In turn, this will save on costs, drastically reduce the number of medical errors, and lead to amazing innovation in the field. Blockchain will provide access to data for medical researchers, ushering in a new era of AI-driven personalised medicine.

The following is an excerpt from the report titled “Blockchain: Opportunities for Health Care: A New Model for Health Information Exchanges” written by Deloitte: “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform health care, placing the patient at the centre of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data.”

Information to help cut expenses

Decentr, in collaboration with Drs. Putrino and Wood, views this as the future of healthcare and intends to create a platform that will securely store and share patient data on-chain, while also extracting the market value from this data to offset the costs of medical and scientific research performed by healthcare providers and, ultimately, the cost of patient care.

According to Dr. Wood, “we have long been supporters of researching techniques to decentralise the sharing of scientific knowledge, clinical information, and technology because we believe in the enormous influence that it can have on healthcare and mankind.” [Citation needed]

Dr. Wood is of the opinion that the method by which information is shared and the procedure by which patients and people who participate in research are included is somewhat antiquated and flawed. The current technologies that are available to many different health systems do not contribute to the resolution of the problems that they are experiencing. In light of this more widespread issue, he contacted Decentr in an effort to make his vision a reality. This vision is in part congruent with the objective of reducing the gaps in patients’ access to medical care.

Technologies available right now

James has come to the conclusion that the technologies that are currently available are unable to satisfactorily satisfy these criteria due to the restrictions they present in the areas of security, privacy, and complete ecosystem compatibility. He asserts that Decentr tackles all of these concerns as an integrated whole within a single system. He describes the connection between this and the work that Drs. Putrino and Wood do as follows:

“It is encouraging to see that experienced healthcare leaders can see the potential in what we are doing at Decentr, which is encouraging in terms of secure, immutable end-to-end encrypted data being made more widely available on-chain. This has the potential to add quality to healthcare systems and improve health outcomes, and it is something that we are working toward. It is still very difficult, and it never happens, for example, for medical team A in city B to know what medical team C is doing in city D, even if they are treating the same cause or condition and would invariably benefit from the real-time exchange of information. This is the fundamental problem that exists right now, despite the apparent pervasiveness of technology and the internet. In terms of communication and technology systems in healthcare, it is still very difficult, and it never happens.

According to him, there is no information system that is commonly used to communicate this information. He argues that doing so with the infrastructure that is currently in place would cause possible problems with security and privacy. Therefore, it is more prudent for practitioners to avoid making the effort to communicate it, which leaves them free to carry on working independently of one another. This necessitates the development of a singular platform that is resilient and safe, with the capability of encrypting patient data as well as other types of data, in order to facilitate research and improve patient care.

The data itself becomes the currency.

Drs. Putrino and Wood are quite enthusiastic about the possibility of Decentr’s technology to address some of the factors that contribute to inequalities in healthcare. Patients who have complicated medical needs typically find themselves at a severe disadvantage in the traditional healthcare ecosystem when it comes to accessing inexpensive medical care. The transformation of personal data into something of value, on the other hand, offers the possibility of empowering patients to make use of their data in a way that is personally advantageous to them. This has the potential to establish a data economy that is really circular.

James explains that Drs. Putrino and Wood were interested in the concept because they both believe that turning data into a form of currency is “a key mechanism to equitably address health needs and more broadly inefficiencies in every industry.” This is one of the reasons why they were drawn to the idea.

Within the context of the current global market and economic system, which requires an ever-increasing GDP, it is unfortunate that improving people’s health is sometimes regarded as not being lucrative. As an illustration of this, James notes that healthcare expenses accounted for 10 percent of the gross domestic product in the United Kingdom in 2018, which was an increase from 9.8 percent in 2017, and that healthcare spending in the United States increased by 4.6 percent in 2019, reaching $3.8 trillion.

He contends that while the healthcare industry “continues to accrue as many inherently worthless ‘third-party units of exchange’ (such as Fiat currencies), as possible, it is, ironically, to the benefit of a ‘healthy’ economy to make sure that we all continue to get sicker. He bases this contention on the fact that the healthcare industry “continues to accrue as many inherently worthless ‘third-party units of exchange’ (such as Fiat currencies). Nobody is going to give up what amounts to 17.7 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States just so the populace can be healthier.

Research and medical care at an affordable price

James is of the opinion that the use of a data currency inverts this “perverse behaviour” because it enhances the data’s security, quality, and immutability while simultaneously making the underlying system more robust. This, in turn, can lead to improved patient treatments and results, which can add to the data being collected. This opens up the possibility of conducting more cost-effective research and providing more accessible medical treatment.

By treating data as a form of currency, opportunities will arise not only to encourage its generation but also to guarantee that the reuse and exchange of that data is not only just and equitable but also financed by a source that is an integral component of a genuine circular economy rather than an end in and of itself. Therefore, there are numerous ways in which fintech may complement and improve healthcare.

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Evangeline Christina is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cyberspecial.net. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter in a reputed news agency.