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Blockchain and Health Care

The most shared story in my Nuzzel feed today looks into pricing at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, recently renamed after the Facebook founder’s $75m contribution. After a bike accident left 24-year-old Nina Dang with a broken arm, she was sent home in a cast and bandages across her face. The real horror came months later.

Dang got a bill for $24,074.50. Premera Blue Cross, her health insurer, would only cover $3,830.79 of that — an amount that it thought was fair for the services provided. That left Dang with $20,243.71 to pay, which the hospital threatened to send to collections in mid-December.

Health care and insurance are important issues to me. In my teens and early twenties, I broke my femur, nose, collarbone, and right ankle (twice). Physical therapy and chiropractic were ways of life. Nearly five years ago, I battled testicular cancer and had meniscus surgery within eleven months of each other. Thankfully I did not experience the horror Dang experienced, but both surgeries put me out thousands of dollars.

I also worked in an emergency room for two years. I’ve seen both sides of the coin: tired and frustrated patients and tired and frustrated staff. On top of this, I’ve had too many battles with insurance companies. At this very moment, I’m in a squabble with my current insurer, Kaiser Permanente, due to the fact that I have to see my primary care physician to see a specialist for a lingering glute med problem. The bureaucracy never seems to end.

Which is why my attention was piqued when spotting Stewart Southey’s article on Forbes earlier today, “Are blockchains good for your health?” The doctor is rightly skeptical. Scalability and especially security are of utmost importance concerning medical records; your health details in public purview can mean life or death when, say, you order a specific medication and your file has been hacked. You don’t want an enemy to discover the details of your DNA, much less the necessity of statins or blood thinners.

Southey argues that blockchain will need to address specific concerns, such as improving patient experience, reducing the death rate and medical errors, identifying the provenance of medications, and reducing administrative bureaucracy. Blockchain can address all of these, but will it? We need to evolve from speculation and promises to successful use cases in order to find out.

Blockchain is about removing intermediaries and sharing common trust-brokering infrastructure. This is fundamentally different from deploying an IT solution from a competitor and requires large-scale adoption of coopetition models. Blockchain is about a sharing economy – where all participants own and enable the network.

I’m with Southey on these concerns. Of all of the disruptions possible in the blockchain space, health care has to be at the top of the list. And while I can’t vouch for many of the well-intentioned (we hope) projects out there, I recall my interview with another physician, Ali Chaudhary, one of the founders of Inkrypt.

Their blockchain-based platform is providing censorship-resistant web hosting, an especially pertinent necessity for the company’s founders, who all come from nations with oppressive governments that restricted the flow of information.

A few months ago, Inkrypt signed a deal with Translo to provide secure and reliable health care information sharing:

This partnership between these two platforms would give Inkrypt the permission to provide a hosting solution that is secure for interoperable data in the pharma and the healthcare industry. This data would be made to be hack-proof and would not be accessed by unauthorized individuals. Translo and Inkrypt platforms would join hands together to build a middleware that would allow the Translo platform to function as a data access request system as well as a searchability algorithm that would facilitate the data of Translo on the Inkrypt platform.

Is blockchain good for health care? It certainly can be. Time will tell which projects fulfill their promises. Given how hard Inkrypt and Translo are working on creating a solution, perhaps at least a little of the bureaucracy will soon be dissolved.