Pandemic Privacy Concerns Give Blockchain Its Day In The Sun

The persistence of the covid-19 pandemic has led governments and companies to resort to the unthinkable- increased surveillance. 

In Beijing where on June 11 marked its first new case after two months, authorities utilized geo-spatial information collected through mobile tracking devices in people’s smartphones to identify and isolate potential virus carriers. To lessen public concern Norway announced its decision to cease its coronavirus contact tracing app, Smittestopp, after criticism from the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, which claims that a present low rate of infection no longer justifies the use of the app. Meanwhile 3 states; Alabama, South Carolina, and North Dakota — have committed to using Apple and Google’s contact-tracing tech.

The Exposure Notification Privacy Act, a new US bill which introduces federal rules to prevent privacy violations would require all tech companies working on contact-tracing apps to collaborate with public-health authorities and mandate that data collected by contact-tracing apps not be used for commercial purposes. However, the question remains, who owns the data and as an individual is it illegal to be commercially incentivized to profit from one’s own data? 

With the coronavirus outbreak bringing digital health to the front of healthcare today, secure and trusted data custody is needed more than ever and blockchain may prove in helping to solve this issue. Although enterprise adoption today of blockchain seems to go without the application of a token or cryptocurrency for financial use cases,  in some ways this is understandable – paying for healthcare is not unknown in and of itself, but buying tokens to pay for it on the subway is a little harder to grasp. 

Like cryptocurrencies that are striving to gain mainstream adoption, blockchain in healthcare is setting its own slow pace to adoption. Companies are at the early stages of development, building infrastructures and business models that would guarantee more privacy of individual data, especially to be used by organizations in times of global distress. Even though the pandemic proves these solutions are urgent, is mainstream adoption in the healthcare industry on the horizon? 

Kadena, the first blockchain technology company to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, has partnered with Rymedi, providers of a data platform revolutionizing healthcare supply chains. Rymdei’s main goal is to use data chains to monitor drug and medical device use as well as their outcomes. Rymedi’s system is being used by the World Health Organization to monitor vaccination records, treatments, and prevention methods in Mongolia. If there is a noticeable effect there, the process can be applied to other countries and other conditions and the solution can undoubtedly be applied to covid-19 initiatives..

Another blockchain based healthcare company Immuto Inc, has used J.P. Morgan’s Quorum, an open-source framework for blockchain networks, to set up their Documen system.  The system eliminates third parties in the custody of medical documents and provides a secure digital signature to all data involved as it goes through the chain of custody.

BlockInterop is one of the companies that has chosen to use a digital currency in its work. Founded in 2018, it’s team focuses on the development, acquisitions and investments of Healthcare Meaningful Use Applications, Web Services and Data Transformation tools. The company noted the huge increase in the cryptocurrency market in 2017 with ICO’s (intial coin offerings, where a token is exchanged for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies) and related offerings. Ultimately, they decided to work with a Security Token Offering (a type of cryptocurrency where the token represents a direct security offering). In BlockInterop’s case, the tokens represent one share of class B stock. Unlike traditional stock offerings, these are monitored by a digital blockchain exchange and are much more secure.

When asked if healthcare is prepared for blockchain, CEO Gina Malak explained, “Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare [industry], putting the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem. Along with increasing data security, privacy, and interoperability, making the data immutable and interoperable.” This concept aligns with Meaningful Use, the term established in 2011 for standards of electronic health record which is now called Promoting Interoperability as CMS focuses on health information exchange and patient data access. Essentially it sets out how that data can be exchanged and accessed. 

While this initiative nearing a decade of work continues to evolve, blockchain technology can improve the coordination of data and address many of the privacy concerns heightened by current events as seen by the companies building these solutions. Inevitable scrutiny and backlash will continue to challenge authoritarian structures that wield power in accessing individuals personal information for their benefit. Before implementing another contact-tracing app, will they seek to integrate a decentralized distributed-ledger system?