Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have been at the forefront of recent conversations. Even those who may not have heard of Web3 or the Metaverse have seen stories about people who have become wealthy selling and trading NFTs. The most expensive NFT sold fetched $91.8 million. There are many others that have netted the creators millions of dollars, resulting in a lot of hype around NFTs as people seek to profit. For those who are late to the party, the New York Times published a helpful guide explaining the world of Web3.
However, beyond the hype, there is a certain utility that NFTs can bring to the market, particularly how they can be used in the healthcare industry in relation to patient health records, counterfeit drugs, HCP certification, and healthcare marketing.
A recent publication from the Baylor College of Medicine suggests that NFTs can provide a social good. The scholars argue that NFTs, as a digital contract of ownership, can help patients track and control their health records.
Today’s system of record keeping is a disorganized process. Moreover, patients don’t have control over their health records once transcribed into electronic form. As such, this information can be commercialized in ways unknown to the patient. Health data has value and has become a currency, with companies using it for commercialization and marketing efforts. The accepted status quo is that data is governed by entities who are providing health services.
It is not only care facilities like clinics or hospitals using tools such as Epic Systems to manage health data. It was revealed that the pregnancy tracking app Ovia Health sells the health data of its users to employers and insurers. 23andMe has plans to develop drugs using the genetic information people have submitted via their DNA testing kits.
The NFT blockchain ledger is helping to bring a sea change. Ownership of data via NFTs can help individuals track where their data is being used, sold, or even make a profit from it. When NFTs are attached to a patient’s data, a digital marketplace for patient-controlled health data is created, establishing an equitable playing field.
In the future companies who use health data as part of their business model can use NFTs as a marketing tool to encourage people to participate. This could be a pharmaceutical company recruiting patients in clinical trials or DNA testing companies looking for genetic samples. These companies would essentially pay patients for their data. If the company decides to give that data to a third party, the patient will know immediately and be able to revoke access or ask for compensation.
Regulations currently allow patients to download their electronic health record (HER) into compatible apps for analysis. Tying this data to an NFT smart contract is not a big leap. There are already several companies attempting to create a marketplace for health data.
NFTs also provide an advantage for healthcare entities such as hospitals and clinics that are using these tokens to track medical data and specimens in their systems. For example, some blood donation organizations are already using NFTs to track blood. The donation is tracked from the original donation to transportation to the hospital, to the blood bank, and finally to the recipient. The blockchain system can track which geographies need certain blood types or where there is greater demand, so supplies can be shifted in real time.
Beyond patient data, NFTs also can help solve big problems in the pharmaceutical industry. Consider the issue of the counterfeit drug industry – a problem that costs the world $200 billion annually. It also creates a huge health issue when patients end up taking drugs that lack efficacy or may even contain components that can cause serious health consequences.
By attaching an NFT to each product shipped by the pharmaceutical company, health care providers can verify product legitimacy. One company is working on creating NFTs that track and authenticate trade documents involved in the shipping of drugs. This is like a digital barcode that can’t be faked to ensure that shipping fraud does not occur.
Yet fraud doesn’t just occur within the pharmaceutical industry. How do we know that the health care provider (HCP) treating us is qualified to do so? Currently, we rely on an overly complicated process of credentialing these HCPs. NFTs can serve to assist this process. For example, HCPs could receive specialized ongoing training. Once their training is completed an NFT would be assigned to them for each credential they successfully completed. These NFTs live with the HCP who can then transfer this to any organization. One startup is already looking into the challenges of credentialing.
From the patient perspective, this would add transparency and additional piece of mind. A patient could look at a specific HCP’s digital wallet to get info on their latest training and credentials. There could also be a Yelp-like database that lists the best qualified within a specific geography to help patients find the appropriate physician. Entities such as Healthgrades could even integrate this as a feature. During telehealth visits, a link to the HCP’s NFT credentials could be quickly incorporated to give the patient peace of mind.
Finally, for healthcare marketers, NFTs can protect intellectual property just as they can protect patient data. Marketing and communications agencies can develop unique solutions or assets that are tokenized to prevent duplication, manipulation, or fraud. Even further, if marketing collateral is created for healthcare clients, the data provided within the material can be tokenized. For example, if Phase III data is included, it could be tokenized so that wherever the data is published, it ensures authenticity.
While NFTs are certainly more than art and have enormous potential, the healthcare industry will be slow to adopt this technology. Despite this, the blockchain healthcare market is expected to reach $3.4 billion by 2025. One of the challenges for the industry will be education and a lack of understanding of blockchain technology. Once people become more comfortable with the technology and barriers of entry continue to lower, adoption will become faster. This is not unlike the early days of the internet, where only a few websites existed prior to mass adoption. Regardless, the future of healthcare technology continues to evolve and is looking bright.
Daniel Brackins is a Senior Vice President, and lead for the Current Global digital health team. He is a digital and social media strategist with over 14 years of digital marketing experience. He has deep knowledge of brand launches, integrated campaigns, crisis planning, and engagement strategy across healthcare, consumer, technology, and B2B audiences. He has led the digital work for numerous brands, such as Edwards Lifesciences, Janssen, Genentech, Roche, Novartis, Bausch + Lomb, Ortho Dermatologics, Kardashian Beauty, Netflix, Volkswagen, Shell, Samsung, Ticketmaster, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, and Western Digital.
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