The use of blockchain for telemedicine is being increasingly discussed by the healthcare tech community, including conversations on Telegram, Reddit and Twitter. And next month on a panel at Blockchain Expo in San Diego, I will address the subject of telemedicine in healthcare with representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, IBM and GE Healthcare.
In addition, a recent study published on Healthcare IT by HIMSS Analytics showed that 50% of health organizations are either investigating or already building a business around blockchain. The study also reported that telemedicine is now adopted in 50% of health systems.
In general, the telemedicine is a burgeoning marketing, with a recent study by Zion Market Research estimating that the global telemedicine market will grow to nearly $38 billion by the end of 2022, up from $18.2 billion just two years ago.
This growth projection is not surprising. It underscores the growing need for robust telemedicine solutions and points to a widening gap in existing healthcare options for many. After all, there are currently more than 100 countries without free or universal healthcare.
But despite this growth, what’s yet to be accomplished is the ability to offer basic healthcare via telemedicine free of charge using blockchain technology. So far, only paid healthcare models have been ported over to telemedicine. Although this approach is potentially viable, I believe the paid model won’t result in widespread adoption and certainly not for millions of under or uninsured citizens who cannot afford access to basic healthcare services.
But what if we reduce patient obligations to a bare minimum, and remove the payment component using blockchain? A sound tokenomics model where healthcare providers, governments, and medical research and educational institutions spend tokens to pay for access to anonymous patient and/or healthcare data would be a key part of being able to offer this telemedicine service for free to patients. Patients, in turn, could get rewarded with tokens in exchange for sharing and uploading their anonymized data such as blood test results.
The idea would be to create a universally accessible, public healthcare blockchain that would be key to unlocking the future of medical care and services.
Beyond the obvious security and privacy benefits realized from the blockchain, telemedicine with anonymized data automatically captured and stored on the blockchain can drive greater insight that leads to improvements in medical services, including a significant increase in publicly available healthcare data and medical knowledge.
I believe that a blockchain-based program could deliver many other advantages, including:
- Improved health. With a single, public decentralized database of medical knowledge based on real-time and real-world data sets, research could improve and help bring more effective healthcare solutions to market.
- Better data management. A public healthcare blockchain would enable patients, doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers to manage highly confidential patient data in a more cost-effective, transparent and secure manner. Healthcare providers could develop DApps on top of the public blockchain to better access and integrate data into their systems.
- Patient control and data transparency. The public blockchain would give patients complete permission, control and transparency over who has access to their personally identifiable, encrypted medical data. In this manner, patients control their own data rather than large healthcare organizations.
In contrast to many fee-based telemedicine services currently on the market, the free service model based on the sharing of data on the blockchain is more disruptive than anything available today. It allows for the buildup of a massive amount of patient data on the public healthcare blockchain for the benefit to all.
And when I say “all,” I’m not just referencing the human race. Initially, the blockchain would be populated with data collected from the growing number of patients around the world who benefit from telemedicine. But looking ahead, the blockchain would not only hold information for humanity, such as clinical information and human genomes, but it could also hold data on animals of many species generated by veterinary telemedicine services. Then more genomic data from organisms will be added with the same incentives that a crypto-economy linked to a blockchain can provide.
So then, what’s next? Based on current industry progress, we expect a growing portion of most medical facilities to have some aspect of telemedicine in their offerings in the next five years, which, not coincidentally, aligns rather well with findings referenced from Zion Market Research I mentioned above.
But it’s my personal belief that widespread adoption could be realized even more quickly, as both the need and the technology are there. However, existing services need to be easier to use from both the patient and physician perspective. Patient data must be secure. Users in rural areas (those currently most likely to use telemedicine) need to find such services attractive so that a robust, rapidly growing data set can be built. And, the service should be provided free of charge for all users.
It’s very doable to accomplish this on the blockchain, and it’s our hope that free basic healthcare can be a reality for everyone, regardless of physical location or economic status. By doing so, together we as an industry can build a significantly improved, decentralized universal healthcare system for all.
Charles Nader is CEO of Doc.com.
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