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Explaining Blockchain to Non-Techies: Overcoming the Language Barrier. Is the Health Sector Ready for Some Help?

November 13, 2019
November 13, 2019
Fátima Sanz de León

Blockchain technology is already transforming healthcare but we have only scratched the surface of what it can do. Arguably, its techie language, notoriously confusing, is one reason for this. Not grasping fully blockchain technology’s jargon and how it really works is a barrier to understanding what it can do and it’s capacity to disrupt business as usual.

Blockchain was unleashed in 2008, following the global financial crisis, aiming to address one key flaw in the financial system. Before blockchain, the only way we could exchange money digitally was through a bank or a financial intermediary that we were required to trust.  The trust in intermediaries was lost during the financial crisis. 

Blockchain removed the need for banks or 3rd parties to verify financial transactions. In doing so, it dismantled the power of 3rd parties in controlling our information, money and transaction records. Blockchain provided an alternative way to move money and financial data digitally.

Since then, the technology has been expanded to other sectors with similar challenges including the health sector. Blockchain technology offers new solutions to old problems such as lack of trust, transparency and incentive alignment. Against this backdrop, it is clear to see the potential of blockchain technology to address obstacles in the collection and sharing of health data. 

Let’s take, for example, a researcher who needs to collect health data from a group of patients affected by a specific health condition. This pool of data may or may not be currently available. This health data may be hidden in electronic health records or may need to be collected through a survey. In both scenarios, the consent of patients is required. Blockchain technology can be used to obtain due consent for the collection and use of patients’ health data.

Furthermore, every “health data transaction” on the blockchain is recorded and immutable so that it cannot be tampered with. This allows for transparency about who collects what data and for what purpose. 

In addition, blockchain technology’s financial heritage provides novel tools to align incentives. This translates into compensating  the patients for sharing their health data and increasing the likelihood for participation in data sharing. This is particularly true for health interventions such as behaviour change and medication adherence programs where an incentive plays a key role.

In a nutshell, blockchain technology can fix many challenges inherent in the collection and use of personal health data by connecting directly the researcher (demand for data) with the patient (supply of data) without the need for a health data “bank”.

Fátima Sanz de León | Head of SDGs Partnerships |  email: fa@centiva.health |

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