Niche blockchain players emerging in healthcare

Pulse Series: As part of the 21st Century Series on Australian Healthcare, David Pare, CTO for DXC Healthcare and Life Sciences in Australia and New Zealand, will focus each month on news, start-ups and developments within the industry — what’s happening, what’s being done to drive innovation, and what’s new or newsworthy.

In my last blog, I challenged the value of blockchain in healthcare, particularly its ability to solve our data fragmentation problems. I took a somewhat harsh perspective to help us all realise that it will be some time before blockchain shifts the dial on the provider side of healthcare. However, I also wrote that blockchain is already delivering great benefits in the supply chain of life sciences organisations, as well as securing transactions for claims adjudication on the payer side of health.

Although I believe blockchain has a long way to go before it takes its place as a transformative technology on the provider side of healthcare, I want to highlight some niche players that are starting to emerge and are doing clever things with blockchain to solve some real challenges of the health system.

Three main start-ups are emerging in the Australia-New Zealand region: ScalaMed, bron.tech and dHealthNetwork.

ScalaMed

The first of these, ScalaMed, has designed a secure prescription management system that has blockchain technology at its core. ScalaMed was launched by doctor and former pharmaceutical executive Dr Tal Rapke. The company developed the technology to allow patients to carry their prescriptions with them digitally, with the aim of improving decision making for doctors, service provision by pharmacies and convenience for patients. The challenge with such an offering is integrating it with the different platforms used by pharmacists, but it is a great idea that has legs.

Dr Rapke said he tried to influence Australian State health government agencies’ view on solving the issue around prescriptions but hit a brick wall and decided to move his start-up to the United States for the time being.

bron.tech

The second start-up, bron.tech, has built a data wallet called MyBron, which encourages users to contribute their data in exchange for a “Bron” token, cash or offers from the company’s business partners. The Bron token is a cryptocurrency that can be used as an exchange or to make transactions on the platform. The objective is to address consent management about personal data. Again, this is interesting and certainly has applications in healthcare, although in this scenario, blockchain does not really offer a solution to solve or accelerate information exchange across the system.

dHealthNetwork

The third company, dHealthNetwork, is working to create a global platform where people store data on blockchain and then either sell their depersonalised data to life sciences companies or leverage it to ask for a remote consultation, paid for with a cryptocurrency created by dHealthNetwork. Essentially, it is a marketplace for health data controlled by the users, and it offers a raft of interesting features. Though it is a great example of how to democratise personal health data and empower patients to take control, the health data fragmentation issue remains, since this model relies on patients uploading their own data.

Each of these companies has raised funds and is gaining traction, so there is hope they will achieve success and materially shift the dial when it comes to health information exchange … only time will tell.

Globally, many healthcare start-ups are betting on blockchain to solve industry challenges. How these companies fare in the longer term will be worth watching. Given the failed experiences of large players such as Microsoft with HealthVault and Google with GoogleHealth, it is difficult to predict with certainty but we know it will not be an easy journey.

Several international health-related blockchain companies are adopting innovative approaches to implementing blockchain. Here are a few examples:

  • Canadian company VitalHub is focused on addressing interoperability issues of healthcare apps across the mental health and long-term care sectors with its blockchain, mobile and web-based solutions.
  • S. company Medrec developed a way to manage medical information through smart contracts that act as an intelligent representation linking patients and providers to the addresses of existing medical records.
  • San Francisco-based software company Blockchain Health Co. uses blockchain technology to create a direct connection between medical research and users.
  • Silicon Valley start-up PokitDok aims to change how healthcare stakeholders communicate by giving customers access to technology that will connect healthcare’s fragmented silos. The platform as a service lets payers, health systems and technology companies communicate and conduct transactions easily.
  • Seeking to get rid of healthcare middlemen, HealthCombix created a blockchain-based care coordination program supporting community-based care while leveraging behavioural economics, social networking, cryptocurrency rewards, and telehealth.
  • And seed-stage on-demand nursing app PointNurse is a blockchain-based virtual care network platform for delivering direct primary care and care management services to targeted populations. The platform enables nurse practitioners and supporting team members to conduct direct primary care consults, health assessments, behaviour management programs and care coordination. PointNurse also has a cryptocurrency, Nursecoin, which will be used for a variety of activities, such as closing gaps in care, rewarding patient behaviour and provider performance, and improving healthcare delivery efficiency.
  • Not a start-up, but a leader in the field is Philips, which launched the Philips Blockchain Laboratory in Amsterdam to focus on blockchain technology in healthcare.

As you can see, there is no lack of interest from vendors and start-ups for using blockchain to solve particular issues and create value despite the current difficulties. I will be keeping a close eye on these developments and will continue to assess the state of blockchain in healthcare. In the meantime, you must form your own opinion about its value, separating the hype from the real opportunities that may benefit your organisation.


David Pare is the chief technology officer for DXC Healthcare and Life Sciences in Australia and New Zealand. He is an innovative thinker with 20 years of experience in business and technology management consulting, helping organisations through their digital transformation.

 

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